The National Catholic Register has a piece discussing the frustration of many at the treatment (or lack of treatment, rather) of the issue of religious freedom in the debates, citing Anna Williams’ disappointment at Tuesday’s spectacle:
On the First Things website, Anna Williams echoed the disappointment of many critics of the mandate in her critique of Romney’s performance during the Oct. 16 presidential debate.
“The Romney of last night’s debate … would rather assure women of their continuing access to contraception than assure religious groups that they will not be forced to betray their consciences. He does not want to rock the boat.
“And this apparent desire to avoid confrontation, to say and do whatever pleases potential supporters, has been evident throughout the man’s political career.”
They go on to quote R.R. Reno, who points out that religious freedom is not a “mature issue” readily presentable in sound bites:
Rusty Reno, the editor of First Things, agreed that it was no easy thing for Romney or Ryan to compress all the arguments and details related to the mandate controversy into a digestible “sound bite.”
“If I stand up and say, ‘The administration has failed to respect religious freedom,’ and then Obama says ‘Our administration has provided a carefully crafted response, and then I have to come back and say, ‘Yes, but it’s not adequate.’ That is not a sound bite.”
Part of the challenge for the U.S. bishops and other opponents of the mandate, Reno added, is that religious freedom is not a “mature issue.”
“It took a decade for the pro-life movement to find its footing and figure out how to get traction with the public and bring out people’s natural moral intuitions,” he noted.
“That effort included an educational campaign to help people understand what was happening, and the ultrasound revolution helped reinforce moral truth. These threats to religious freedom are really new.”
If the mandate stands, Reno predicts that threats to religious liberty will have to worsen before the majority of Americans, including the nation’s political leaders, take notice.
“Our politicians don’t lead; they follow,” he observed.
That said, even though the mandate was only approved last January, he sees some promising signs of real traction on the issue. Just as the Catholic Church spearheaded the effort to overturn legal abortion in the United States, after Roe v. Wade, so the bishops are again laying a foundation for a new moral movement with political consequences.
“When it comes to religious liberty, the Church is doing a good job,” Reno said. “At the parish level, I have been quite surprised by all the homilies I have heard from pastors. The message has been clear and unequivocal. That is a really healthy sign.”