Obama and the Catholic vote

The Obama administration seems to be going out of its way to offend a key group of voters who swept the president into office three years ago.

The Washington Post had this to say about this crucial voting bloc: “American Catholics are the ultimate swing voters, switching between Republicans and Democrats alike. Representing approximately one in four U.S. voters, Catholics make up the largest single religious voting bloc in American politics.”

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Catholic voters voted big time for Barack Obama in the last presidential election. According to a Pew survey, they voted for Obama over John McCain by a 9-point margin (54 percent to 45), a turnaround from 2004, when Catholics supported President George W. Bush over Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, by a 5-point margin (52 percent to 47).

Father William Byrne, the pastor at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill, made a direct plea to his parishioners on Sunday to send a message to the president and to Congress regarding a new rule that has emerged from ObamaCare. 

This rule will make it harder for Catholic hospitals and other Catholic service organizations to continue to keep their Catholic identity and serve the poor. 

At issue is a new government mandate that Catholic hospitals provide contraception services, a mandate that directly contravenes church teachings. As Father Byrne put it, you can disagree with the church’s teachings about contraception, but the issue here isn’t about that teaching. It is about the Obama administration’s demand that the church change the way it believes.

“This will likely drive many important Catholic social service providers to close up shop, inevitably harming the poor communities that they serve,” Notre Dame Law School Professor O. Carter Snead told the Catholic News Agency on Aug. 2. “Being an employee of a Catholic university that takes seriously its Catholic identity, I worry very much about what we’re being asked to do at this point. We’re being directly asked to act contrary to our deeply held religious beliefs,” he added. “It feels very aggressive to me. It bothers me very much.” 

Helen Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University who formerly worked with the U.S. bishops’ pro-life office, told CAN, “This regulation breaks a long-held, bipartisan understanding about who we are as a nation. We were founded on the basis of freedom of conscience, and that it’s an important part of our overall level of freedom, not to mention peaceful coexistence.”

My guess is that Byrne wasn’t the only priest speaking out against the Obama administration’s healthcare law, especially as it relates to this regulation. And he won’t be the last.

Byrne pointed out that the Catholic Church feeds and houses more than 4,000 indigent Washingtonians every day.

There is no doubt that Catholic hospitals and service organizations play an extraordinarily important role in keeping this society together. 

This is not the only example of the anti-Catholic nature of the Obama regulatory regime. The National Labor Relations Board has decided that St. Xavier, a Catholic university outside of Chicago, is not Catholic enough, and that it can force the university to accept labor unions. 

St. Xavier is appealing the decision. 

The Obama administration is treading on dangerous water here. Catholics don’t vote as a straight bloc, but winning the Catholic vote is critical to winning elections. 

Catholics also don’t necessarily all agree on every issue. There are plenty of pro-choice Catholic voters, just as there are orthodox Catholics who agree with the pope on everything. 

But what Catholic voters don’t like is the idea of the federal government attacking the church for being what it is. And they certainly don’t like the idea of the church’s being sidetracked from its mission of helping the poor and the indigent because of regulations run amok.

Catholic voters swept Obama into office three years ago. They could just as easily sweep him back out next year.

Feehery is president of Quinn 
Gillespie Communications and 
spent 15 years working in the 
House Republican leadership. He is 
a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com