From the Utah War to the prohibition of polygamy, Mormons have dealt with religious discrimination for many years. Can Obama’s policies regarding religion really be called a “war,” and thus be equated with other past and present instances of religious persecution? The answer is no.
Of course, Mitt Romney is hardly the first person to accuse Barack Obama of attacking religious tradition in the United States. Texas Gov. Rick Perry ran a prominent ad during the Republican primary in which he promised to protect the country against “liberal attacks on our religious heritage” and end Obama’s “war on religion.” There was also Newt Gingrich, who on the campaign trail accused both Obama and Romney for the “attack on religion” allegedly brought on by their respective health care mandates. Gingrich’s rhetoric echoes that of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which routinely uses words like “war” and “attack” with regards to religion, and have even compared the President’s policies to those of Hitler and Stalin. While Romney began to use the term “war on religion” in April, this new ad features the issue more prominently than we have seen before.
At the heart of these recent accusations is healthcare reform. The announcer in Romney’s ad states: "President Obama used his health care plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith. Mitt Romney believes that’s wrong." Presumably, Romney is referring to the fact that religiously-affiliated employers must include contraceptive coverage in the healthcare insurance packages they provide to employees. If there is a religious objection to doing so, the employees can obtain contraceptive coverage directly through the insurance company with no additional cost to the employer.
The government has a responsibility to respect rights of conscience and to balance those rights with the general welfare of the citizenry. Rather than engage in a conversation about this balance, the knee-jerk reaction by the USCCB— and now Mitt Romney—is to cry that a war is being waged.
The endgame may be to raise a group’s public profile or win the support of certain voters come November, but at what cost? When we distort reality for the sake of posturing and politics, we also cheapen the plight of people who really do face intolerance and even violence because of their beliefs. Barack Obama’s “war” does not compare to the recent instances of religious persecution in Nigeria or China. Nor does it compare to the difficulties Mormons have faced in American history, or the slander, vandalism, and bomb threats that Muslims in Murfreesboro, Tennessee recently confronted as they prepared to open a new mosque. And then there was the tragic shooting in Wisconsin earlier this month—one of many acts of violence and discrimination that Sikhs have coped with over the last decade. In the United States there are people who really do face a “war” when it comes to peacefully practicing their religions. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and the members of the USCCB are not among those people.
Hopefully, Gov. Romney will abandon this line of attack as the election moves forward. He has every right to advocate for his policies over those of his opponent, but to invoke a “war on religion” is to play into a false narrative that ultimately damages all Americans, religious and secular alike.