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Behind the Kerfuffle, Stark Choices

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The Huffington Post was all a-twitter, even off Twitter: "GOP Lawmaker Accidentally Reveals Truth Behind Solyndra Investigation."

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, was railing against "cronyism," voicing concerns about the administration's investment of taxpayer dollars into a now-failed solar-panel company. "Ultimately, we'll stop it on Election Day, hopefully," Jordan said. And bringing attention to these things," he continued, helps the voters and citizens of the country make the kind of decision that I hope helps them as they evaluate who they are going to vote for in November.

It wasn't exactly incendiary stuff. And yet, it was spun into some kind of smoking gun, and on a not-slow news day, too. Solyndra and "cronyism" cries aside, Jordan was making a basic civic point: Elections matter. Perhaps we can look beyond the typical media scrum and consider the choices before us.

Most of us have only just begun to talk about the White House "contraception mandate," which, as part of federally funded health care, would require individuals and institutions -- regardless of their religious or personal objections -- to pay for employee health plans that would include contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., has been considering it for much longer. Last year, he introduced the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, with the aim of forcing the president's health care legislation to adequately protect the conscience rights of Americans. The Obama health care law marks a radical departure for the federal government, as is becoming clearer as associated regulations are issued.

"The White House is creating an unnecessary political firestorm," Fortenberry has said of the mandate. It's a reminder that the media furor is a direct result of the White House pushing a fight, not "theocrats forcing rosaries on ovaries," as some of my more family-friendly "fan mail" has put it.

Speaking of rosaries, perhaps the most recognizable face of the opposition to the health mandate is Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Like Fortenberry, he has been warning anyone who cared to listen for years now. And his objections stem from not just his moral grounding but from personal experience.

Talking about his niece's childhood bout with cancer, Dolan told religion journalist John Allen: "I'm a guy who not only is for health care reform theologically but personally. I don't want any family to have to go through what my sister's family went through. I wish I could be jumping up and down right now, but I can't, because I fear the legislation will also open the door to further assaults on defenseless unborn life."

Dolan, of course, is primarily not a political but a spiritual leader. Dolan is most concerned about a different kind of battleground state in a campaign for eternity. But this health care mandate collides with the cardinal's core beliefs in unprecedented ways -- this is why you're seeing the Catholic bishops so vocal and adamant, in defense of not only the rights of their institutions but the conscience rights of individual Americans as well, all of us, of any or no faith.

The Fortenberry bill is the best we can do in the short term to move to protect conscience rights short of the administration rescinding the mandate. The administration has been doubling down in making "accommodation" claims (since when does the American government merely "accommodate" religious freedom anyway?), hoping the protests will go away in the confusion, while actually changing nothing substantively about the policy.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the upcoming election is going to decide whether or not we preserve the foundational freedom of religion that lies at the heart of our nation. That's not partisan politics -- it's the reality of American politics in the run-up to a national election that could change things.

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