Archbishop Warns Obama: You’ll Cause 'Conflict Between Church and State of Enormous Proportions’

Terence P. Jeffrey | September 29, 2011 | 12:05pm EDT
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Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

( - Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has written a letter to President Barack Obama warning him that his administration will “precipitate a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions” if it does not “end its campaign against DOMA, the institution of marriage it protects, and religious freedom.”

The letter follows up on two previous letters that Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, the former president of the USCCB, and Archbishop Dolan sent to Obama privately on the matter. Cardinal George sent his private letter in 2010, according to the USCCB, and Archbishop Dolan sent his earlier this year.

In the latest letter--written Sept. 20, publicly posted on the USCCB website Sept. 22, and linked to Archbishop Dolan’s personal blog on Sept. 23--the archbishop sent the president a USCCB staff analysis on “recent federal threats to marriage” that reiterated the warning the archbishop delivered directly to president in the text of his letter.

“Thus, the comprehensive efforts of the federal government—using its formidable moral, economic, and coercive power—to enforce its new legal definition of ‘marriage’ against a resistant Church would, if not reversed, precipitate a systemic national conflict between Church and State, harming both institutions, as well as our Nation as a whole,” says the USCCB analysis.

The archbishop’s letter and USCCB analysis revealed a second front in an escalating conflict between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration. The other front is over regulations the Department of Health and Human Services proposed on Aug. 1 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—the Obamacare law—that would compel all private health plans in the United States to cover sterilizations and all-FDA approved contraceptives including those that cause abortions.

The Catholic Church teaches that sterilization, artificial contraception and abortion are morally wrong. The church also teaches that marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman.

At issue in the conflict between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration are efforts by the administration to force Catholics, and other Americans who share the church’s moral convictions, to act against their consciences.

The Obamacare sterilization-and-contraception mandate not only applies to individual Americans but also includes a “religious exemption” that is so narrowly drawn it does not include Catholic hospitals, charitable organizations or colleges and universities, and, thus, if finalized, would force these Catholic institutions to choose between acting against the teachings of their own church or dropping all health-care coverage for their employees.

On August 31, the USCCB submitted comments on the proposed sterilization-and-contraception mandate to HHS. In these comments, the bishops flatly declared that the administration was launching an “unprecedented attack on religious liberty.”

"Indeed, such nationwide government coercion of religious people and groups to sell, broker, or purchase 'services' to which they have a moral or religious objection represents an unprecedented attack on religious liberty," said the comments.

The bishops’ comments also said that even Jesus would not qualify for the “religious” exemption the administration proposed for its sterilization-and-contraceptives mandate.

In his letter last week to the president about the marriage issue, Archbishop Dolan indicated that the only “response” he and Cardinal George had received from their previous communications was a stepped up attack on marriage by the administration.

“This past spring the Justice Department announced that it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, a decision strongly opposed by the Catholic Bishops of the United States and many others,” the archbishop told the president.

“Now the Justice Department has shifted from not defending DOMA—which is problem enough, given the duty of the executive branch to enforce even laws it disfavors—to actively attacking DOMA’s constitutionality,” the archbishop said.

“My predecessor, Cardinal Francis George, OMI, and I have expressed to you in the past our strong disappointment about the direction your Administration has been moving regarding DOMA,” the archbishop told the president. “Unfortunately the only response to date has been the intensification of efforts to undermine DOMA and the institution of marriage.”

The archbishop said he especially objected to the administration falsely equating those who defend traditional marriage to racists.

 “That is why it is particularly upsetting, Mr. President, when your Administration, through the various court documents, pronouncements and policies identified in the attached analysis, attributes to those who support DOMA a motivation rooted in prejudice and bias," said the archbishop. "It is especially wrong and unfair to equate opposition to redefining marriage with either intentional or willfully ignorant racial discrimination, as your Administration insists on doing.”

The archbishop said that if the federal courts adopt the position the administration is urging on them, then defending traditional marriage will be essentially criminalized in the United States.

“Our federal government should not be presuming ill intent or moral blindness on the part of the overwhelming majority of its citizens, millions of whom have gone to the polls to directly support DOMAs in their states and have thereby endorsed marriage as the union of man and woman,” said the archbishop. “Nor should a policy disagreement over the meaning of marriage be treated by federal officials as a federal offense—but this will happen if the Justice Department’s latest constitutional theory prevails in court.”

The USCCB analysis the archbishop sent to Obama specifically addresses the arguments the Justice Department made in a brief filed in July in the case of Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. This brief argues that the federal courts should mandate that treating a same-sex couple differently from a married heterosexual couple should be deemed the same as racial discrimination.

“The Justice Department’s argument in Golinski compares DOMA in effect to racially discriminatory laws,” says the USCCB analysis.

“According to the government’s view,” says the analysis, “support for a definition of marriage that recognizes that sexual difference is a defining and valuable feature of marriage now constitutes a forbidden intent to harm a vulnerable class of people. The false claim that animus is at work ignores the intrinsic goods of complementarity and fruitfulness found only in the union of man and woman as husband and wife. DoJ’s contention thus transforms a moral disagreement into a constitutional violation, with grave practical consequences.”

The USCCB analysis pointed to three other areas where the administration is seeking to advance same-sex marriage by regulation. These include a White House spokesperson’s statement that Obama wants a federal mandate to ensure "adopotion rights" for same-sex couples; an Agriculture Department “sensitivity training” program on "heterosexism," and a directive issued then rescinded by the Office of Navy Chaplains that required Navy chapels to allow same-sex wedding ceremonies.

The analysis concluded that if the administration’s policy of treating the defense of marriage as if it were equal to racial discrimination prevailed, the likely result would be legal sanctions and lawsuits against Catholics, Catholic institutions and those who share their moral vision in defense of marriage.

“In particular, the Administration’s efforts to change the law—in all three branches of the federal government—so that support for authentic marriage is treated as an instance of ‘sexual orientation discrimination,’ will threaten to spawn a wide range of legal sanctions against individuals and institutions within the Catholic community, and in many others as well,” says the USCCB analysis.

“Based on the experience of religious entities under some state and local governments already, we would expect that, if the Administration succeeds, we would face lawsuits for supposed ‘discrimination’ in all the areas where the Church operates in service to the common good, and where civil rights laws apply—such as employment, housing, education, and adoption services, to name just a few,” says the analysis.

Archbishop Dolan concluded his letter sending this analysis to Obama with a warning from him and fellow Catholic bishops.

“The Administration’s failure to change course on this matter will, as the attached analysis indicates, precipitate a national conflict between Church and State of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions,” the archbishop told the president.

“Thus, on behalf of my brother Bishops,” he said, “I urge yet again that your Administration end its campaign against DOMA, the institution of marriage it protects, and religious freedom.”

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