The full-page anti-Catholic advertisement in Friday’s New York Times is a nasty piece of work, similar in tone and rhetoric to the hate-filled nativist screeds of the 19th century. In those days, cartoonist Thomas Nast portrayed bishops as alligators. This time around, the ad sponsored by the new nativists (actually the Freedom From Religion Foundation) features a reprinted cartoon portraying New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan as a screaming madman. The foundation alleges that in arguing that religious liberty is at stake in the Obamacare debate, the church is “launching a ruthless political Inquisition”—capital “I” to suggest that the real Inquisition is back.
Why is it OK for the Times to push this stuff? Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. should apologize immediately, or else explain that, out of basic fairness, he is equally willing to run a similar ad savaging Muslims, Jews, or Protestants. The Times may be slipping, but it doesn’t want to morph into a gutter rag, does it? Rush Limbaugh was rightly called on his vile rhetoric. What about the Times?
Here’s a non-rhetorical way of addressing the issue of religious liberty vs. women’s rights. Those who see the religious-liberty part of this debate as more important—half of American adults according to Gallup and the Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll, both pre-Limbaugh—ought to admit that many thousands of people employed by religious institutions are entitled to full medical benefits and ought to get them somehow.
The other side should admit that there is a very plausible First Amendment issue here—the “exercise thereof ” clause can be construed to mean that religious institutions must not be prevented from applying their own moral principles at their own institutions. And the real issue isn’t contraception, as the press keeps saying—everyone knows that Catholics use contraceptives at about the same rate as everyone else. It’s sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs now, and in the future, maybe forcing Catholic hospitals to perform abortions and Catholic priests to preside at gay weddings. Serious people should get beyond foolish rhetorical games.