Skip to main content

Obama defends freedom of religion: Be not afraid of Mitt Romney

George Lakoff, professor emeritus of linguistics | August 14, 2012

Coauthored with Elisabeth Wehling

Do you believe in freedom of religion? President Obama does, and he is defending Americans’ freedom of religion against Mitt Romney and Fox News in the administration of his health care bill.

The president allows each woman to decide for herself whether or not to ask her insurance company to cover contraception. If this violates a woman’s religious principles, she would never ask. A woman would make such a request only if contraception fit her principles. In short, the president has guaranteed that each woman can act according to her religious principles. He has made a strong defense of freedom of religion.

In difficult cases, he has extended freedom of religion even further, beyond people to churches and houses of worship. Insurance companies are required to cover contraception with no co-pays for the women whose health care they are covering. This guarantees freedom of religion for the women covered, and does not affect insurance companies, which are neither people nor religious institutions.

What about hospitals, charities with a religious affiliation, and religious employers who have a moral objection to contraception? Women getting health care paid through these institutions will be able to obtain contraception from the insurance companies, not the religious institutions. Thus the president has found a way to extend freedom of religion not only to all women, but even beyond people to churches and religious employers.

This makes President Obama a remarkable champion of freedom of religion in contemporary American history.

Moreover, President Obama is very much in touch with the values of Americans. A recent Gallup Poll has shown that, in the U.S., 82 percent of Catholics think that birth control is “morally acceptable.” Ninety percent of non-Catholics believe the same. Overall, 89 percent of Americans agree on this. In the May 2012 poll, Gallup tested beliefs about the moral acceptability of 18 issues total, including divorce, gambling, stem cell research, the death penalty, gay relationships, and so on. Contraception had by far the greatest approval rating. Divorce, the next on the list, had only 67 percent approval compared to 89 percent for contraception.

Mitt Romney and Fox News, on the other hand, are proposing a huge backward step on freedom of religion. Romney has said he would support a bill that would allow employers and insurers to deny their female employees insurance coverage for birth control and other health services, based on the religious beliefs of the employers and insurers. As far as employers are concerned, this fits with President Obama’s policy. But the extension to insurance companies violates the freedom of religion that the President guaranteed to women.

In addition, Romney has said he would “get rid of” Planned Parenthood, an organization that allows women freedom of religion by supplying contraception if they choose to ask for it. This would be another major blow to freedom of religion.

In short, Romney is advocating, and would take, a big backward step to deny freedom of religion to women.

Incidentally, Romney’s ad, which falsely accuses the president of what Romney himself is advocating, namely denial of religious freedom, is entitled “Be Not Afraid,” using Biblical language, as if he were God or a prophet.

Given that 89 percent of the American people support contraception, we have no reason to be afraid of Romney — unless we let him get away with his attempt to frame the president as being against religion. The president’s advance in promoting freedom of religion should be shouted from the rooftops.

Cross-posted from HuffPost Politics. George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling are authors of The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic.

Comments to “Obama defends freedom of religion: Be not afraid of Mitt Romney

  1. freedom of religion is such a hot topic these days because so many of us have very strong views on the subject which makes these types of articles all the more important for us all to read, and really think deeply about this topic. We all want to be free to practice our religion and I don’t think anyone really wants the government telling us what to do. It’s the principal of it for many people and for some it’s an important debate that is old as time. religious freedom is our right.

  2. Dante
    Your question was asked and answered during the Vietnam war era when war protesters used the same argument to defend their non-payment of income taxes because their religious and ethical principles opposed the use of their tax money to fund the Department of Defense to kill people in Vietnam and elsewhere. They lost in court.

    Consider the affront to a vegan who knows part of their taxes are being spent to inspect slaughterhouses and meat packing plants.

    Or an observant Jew who knows that part of their taxes are spent to provide price supports for pig farmers and shrimp fishers.

    Or a PETA member who knows part of their taxes support medical research involving animals.

    Or a Buddhist who knows part of their taxes pay for a national holiday for Christmas.

    Paying a tax, or insurance premium in the case of a medical issue, does not give you any claim to decide how the money is spent if the laws, or terms of the insurance policy, permit it. Once you pay the premium, it’s not your money anymore.

    You have an easy solution to your problem. Don’t use contraceptive services or products (pills, condoms, etc.), with or without prescription. Then you know for sure that your money isn’t directly spent on something you ethically oppose.

    Your comment about political majorities is quite apropos of the times. The Christian majority is spending a great deal of time and effort trying to impose Judeo-Christian sharia law in the United States through government policies.

    Freedom of religion includes freedom from religion. The Constitution bars the majority from imposing a religion on the minority. Since every religious group is a minority, they should all be glad of the legal protection.

  3. Indeed Romney has violated every teaching in “Sermon on the Mount” including beatitudes, laws, Lord’s Prayer, money and false prophet warning during his 2012 election campaign.

  4. As a member of a minority religion, Romney would never restrict freedom of religion. He just doesn’t believe in the government paying for the choices freedom of religion give women. They are free to use any contraception they want, and will continue to do so. By the way, if the government is going to pay for women’s contraception, where is the equal expenditure for men???? Keep the government out of it!

  5. We are a republic and have a constitution which protects us against democratic tyranny. This prevents 51% of the people from abusing the rights of the 49%. Even if 99% of Christians were okay with birth control, what about the 1%.

    What I hear you say is you support the government forcibly taking my money and spending it on things which violate my religion. If that is your definition of freedom, what is your definition of slavery?

    • Dante, I think your comment finishes with the definitive question, and I doubt the author has an answer because it is obvious he is not using logic, and instead merely retrofitting an ill-suited argument in order to defend an indefensible and unprecedented assault on conscience protection that has existed for as long as I can remember. Even Hilary Clinton included it in Hilarycare for goodness’ sake. No thinking person is buying into this, and certainly no adherent religious person of any stripe, whether Muslim, Hindu, Jew, or Christian.

      • Ellen Sue,

        You’ve an elegantly intelligent point. Your sword is a much better tool than my sledgehammer. 🙂


Comments are closed.