Framing the Debate: Religious Liberty, Not Contraceptives

It all began with George Stephanopoulos—of Clinton White House infamy—asking a question at one of the Republican debates. He wanted to know if states had the authority to ban contraception. The question baffled the candidates, particularly since no one had ever brought up the issue. Perhaps it was intended to stem the rising candidacy of Rick Santorum, who was becoming more prominent at that time. Yet Santorum, despite his personal views on the subject, had never indicated any interest in banning contraception; in fact, he had stated the exact opposite.

Why did Stephanopoulos broach this non-issue? No one could quite figure it out, except as a way of stopping Santorum.

Then, not long after, the Obama administration came up with its mandate that religious organizations had to offer contraceptives and abortifacients in their hospitals and healthcare plans. Was Stephanopoulos’s question the preliminary to the mandate, getting the public used to it ahead of time? Was he in collusion with the White House? Those queries remain unanswered, but the timing was unusually fortuitous for the administration.

Those plans went awry when the religious community cried foul and cited First Amendment protections for religious liberty. That seemed to throw the Obama team off-balance for a while, but then they attempted a new tactic—change the issue from religious liberty to the right of women to have contraceptives. Convince the public that conservatives are anti-women and are bent on setting up a theocracy. In other words, scare the public by constructing a straw man, a technique used by progressives ad nauseum.

When Darrell Issa, the congressman who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, held hearings on the religious liberty issue and its violation in the HHS mandate, the Democrats were able to offer their own witnesses at the hearing. At the last minute, they wanted to change one of their witnesses so that Georgetown student Sandra Fluke could testify. Fluke, a feminist birth control advocate whose goal is to change the Catholic university’s policy on not providing contraceptives, was not an expert on the First Amendment or religious liberty, and was denied a spot at the hearing for that reason, as well as for the late notice.

So what did the Democrats do? They arranged their own “hearing,” which was not official but primarily a publicity stunt, so that Fluke could “testify” to the hardships students face by not having contraceptives provided for them via the taxpayers. She made it sound like contraceptives were somehow scarce and extremely expensive; they are neither. In effect, she wanted a subsidy for herself and other students.

We have become a society so seared in our consciences when it comes to sex that dissent over a policy that promotes promiscuity is liable to get one in trouble.

That’s where Rush Limbaugh came in. He saw how ludicrous the entire proceeding had been, and commented on the blatant hypocrisy of the progressives, turning a religious liberty concern into a “threat” to women’s “rights” for political purposes. As he ridiculed the idea that taxpayers should pay for a woman’s sexual activities, he used a couple of words to describe Fluke that got the media in an uproar. First of all, never mind that the Left says far worse things daily—one need only replay the constant derogatory and disgusting comments about the Palin family. Yet the progressive Left demanded that advertisers drop Limbaugh’s program.

Over the weekend, Limbaugh issued an apology for the use of words he regretted uttering. I listened to his explanation yesterday. He said his apology was heartfelt; he had lowered himself to the level of his accusers and had played into their hands. Some say he apologized only because he was losing sponsors, but I believe he meant what he said. The apology was appropriate; we should never mirror the traits of those who dishonor themselves by their despicable words and actions. By the way, I expect him to weather the storm; the attempt to shut him down won’t succeed.

But what has happened? The real issue—religious liberty—has been overwhelmed by a non-issue—contraception—and the Left has successfully framed the debate. This is what they always attempt to do. We have to stand against such tactics and respond in ways that show we have a different character.

The debate needs to be reframed in a proper way. There is much at stake as Obama tries to run roughshod over the Constitution and religious liberty. He must not be allowed to win this debate. We must walk in wisdom. May God grant us His mind and heart as we proceed.