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President’s persecution of religion is alarming

WASHINGTON – All of us have experienced the heavy hand of the state coming down on us suddenly with nobody’s permission. In Buffalo, it was the government slicing Delaware Park and Humboldt Parkway in half with a truckway, a speedway.

In Niagara County, it was the state grabbing all of the best Niagara River vistas for another express highway to nowhere.

For Roman Catholics and their colleges and institutions, and other believing Christians, it was the government suddenly and without a hearing forcing them to pay for insurance not only for old-fashioned contraception but also for sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

These involve serious abuses of religious conscience.

All are examples of statism.

On Wednesday, raw-handed statism and bald-faced political hypocrisy collided in the White House Rose Garden when President Obama greeted Pope Francis.

“Here in America,” the president piously said, “we cherish religious liberty. It was the basis for so much of what brought us together. And here in the United States we cherish our religious liberty.”

The transcript shows the president repeated his reference to religious liberty. Was it a taunt? It might have been. Obama, judging from his own record, has his own definition of the First Amendment to the Constitution. And that is that the words, “the free exercise [of religion] thereof,” mean whatever this president decides they mean.

For Catholics, religion is what you do and don’t do – what you and your organizations act out, for example, creating hospitals, charities, colleges, schools – as much as what you think and believe.

Yet for the Obama administration and the left, that means that freedom of religious conscience of action is a non-starter. So what the church reasonably does outside the sacristy has become the federal government’s business. And that is statism, and it is very dangerous. Because what the government does to narrow freedom in one case, it will do to restrict liberty in another instance. That is the process with statism.

It was Kathleen Sebelius who, as secretary of health and human services, ordered practicing religious institutions and businesses to comply with the government’s contraception mandate five years ago.

It was then-Attorney General Eric Holder who crafted the case that would force the Little Sisters of the Poor, and hundreds of other Catholic organizations, to comply.

But Sebelius left a year and a half ago and Holder quit a year ago. So if it weren’t for the obsession for control by the ideological left and Obama, the case to force the Little Sisters, whose only job is to care for the dying, to endure five years of lawsuits or pay crippling fines would have been dropped months ago.

As it happens, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the Little Sisters case this month or next. The amount of money that charities, universities and other religious organizations have spent to fight Obama’s intrusion into their lawful work is incalculable. The price has to be in the millions.

Unlike the government’s bottomless legal war chest, the charities’ defense came from monies intended to comfort the dying, to heal and to educate young people.

What the president said to the pope is beyond cynicism. Rather than the defender of religious liberty Obama pretended to be in the Rose Garden, he is the most determined presidential persecutor of religion in history.

The visiting pope could not rebuke the president in his own backyard. So Francis did all he could do under the circumstances. He paid an unscheduled visit to the habited nuns at one of their nursing homes.