NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) – The Southern Baptist Convention’s top public-policy expert said Feb. 4 that President Obama’s health-care mandate covering contraception is the most anti-Catholic action by government since the denial of taxpayer funding to parochial schools.
“This ruling by the Obama administration is the most transparently anti-Catholic action by the federal government since the Blaine Amendment was proposed in 1875,” Richard Land, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said during his weekly broadcast of the Richard Land Live radio program.
The Blaine Amendment would have amended the U.S. Constitution to prevent the use of taxpayer funds raised for public education to support “sectarian” schools. It was named after Republican presidential candidate James Blaine, whose 1884 campaign included infamous remarks by a Protestant minister describing Democrats as the party of “rum, Romanism and rebellion.”
Blaine introduced his amendment when he was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1875. The amendment passed overwhelmingly in the House but failed by four votes in the Senate. While it did not carry at the federal level, the amendment inspired several states to pass laws restricting the public funding of religious instruction. Today Blaine amendments or provisions appear in 38 state constitutions.
In recent years Catholic groups like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty have highlighted anti-Catholic bigotry common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a reason to end laws enacted in those eras that they believe put Catholic schools at a disadvantage to non-religious private schools.
Land described the original Blaine Amendment as “a measure designed to diminish public tolerance of Romanism, then regarded as foreign, authoritarian and illiberal.” Turning to Obamacare, Land said, “Modern liberalism has progressed to the point of adopting the attitudes and methods of 19th century Republican Know-Nothing nativists.”
“Know-Nothings” was the name given to a movement that arose in the 1830s and 1840s pitting “native-born” Americans against rising numbers of mostly Catholic immigrants from Europe. Officially named the American Party, the Know-Nothings popularized anti-immigrant and anti-Irish sentiment until the party split over slavery and dissolved just prior to the Civil War.
Land called Obama’s insurance mandate a betrayal of Catholics who supported him in the last election. Vice President Joe Biden, Land said, now will be remembered as “the Catholic cover for the violation of Catholic conscience.”
“Southern Baptists are equally outraged, because our hospitals and our ministries beyond the church are going to be asked to pay for birth control pills that are abortifacient and for abortifacient services,” Land said.
“This president’s administration has declared war on religion,” Land said. “They want to very narrowly define what space you have freedom of conscience in, and basically it covers the space between your ears.”
Land termed the administration as “radically secularist,” but he quibbled with a caller who questioned the president’s claims that he is a Christian.
“You can be a secularist and be a Christian,” Land said. “There are lots of Christians that are secularists. I’m not questioning his Christianity. I’m questioning his view of government. And when he says that your right of conscience only exists in a church and not in a school — a Catholic school or a Catholic hospital — and that you’re going to be forced to pay for that which you find unconscionable, Thomas Jefferson said that was outrageous, and we have a constitutional protection against that.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.