Heres an interesting piece of data from Tuesdays exit polls , which Joseph Knippenberg discusses below: President Obama won the Catholic vote. The margin was narrow—50 percent to 48 percent, which more or less mirrors the Presidents popular-vote victory—but, still, he won. Now, you might say, this isnt surprising. Catholics have traditionally leaned Democratic, and President Obamas campaign stressed social justice concerns that resonate with Catholic teaching. One should remember, though, that the Obama Administration imposed the contraception mandate, and that, as Katherine Infantine writes below, Catholic bishops made the mandate a salient issue . Requiring Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives and abortifacients to employees, the bishops said, seriously threatens Catholics religious freedom.
Apparently, the majority of Catholic voters disagreed. Or thought that the threat to religious freedom, if it existed, was not as important as other issues, like increasing taxes on wealthy Americans and leaving entitlement programs untouched. Perhaps Latino Catholics voted ethnicity rather than religion. Who knows? The point is, the majority of Catholic voters apparently did not accept the bishops understanding of the importance of the issue.
Leaving aside whether voters who disregard their bishops views on the contraception mandate are erring as Catholics—a question on which Im not qualified to state an opinion—I wonder what implications this vote has for the future of the mandate. Legally, the lawsuits under RFRA will go forward, and I think they have a fair shot at success. But the atmosphere may have changed. It wont show up expressly in judicial opinions, of course, but I wonder whether judges who support the mandate wont feel more emboldened to find that the mandate doesnt substantially burden Catholic institutions. And I wonder whether the Obama Administration wont feel more comfortable taking a hard line on whatever accommodation they are preparing for the final regulations, due before August 2013. The courts may or may not follow the election returns, but politicians surely do.
Mark Movsesian is Director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University.