Obama’s failure to communicate

So it’s about not telling us good enough stories.

That’s how the president sees his main mistake in his first term.

President Obama tells CBS News that the biggest mistake of his first term boils down to communication with the public: emphasizing policy over storytelling.

“When I think about what we’ve done well and what we haven’t done well, the mistake of my first term — couple of years — was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right,” Obama told CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose in an interview taped today.

“And that’s important,” Obama said. “But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”

Wait. With all due respect, Mr. President, we know our story and from whence our unity and purpose come, and for what we have real and authentic hope.

Mitt Romney chimed in, saying in a statement that, “President Obama believes that millions of Americans have lost their homes, their jobs and their livelihood because he failed to tell a good story. Being president is not about telling stories. Being president is about leading, and President Obama has failed to lead. No wonder Americans are losing faith in his presidency.”

Republican spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said Obama’s economic policies are the problem.

“With 23 million people struggling under our slow economy, the decision for voters isn’t ‘can the president tell a good story,'” Kukowski said. “It’s ‘can the president create jobs?'”

And how much of his signature healthcare overhaul will impact that. There’s a story voters would like to hear.

The impact of Obama silencing military chaplains

Enough was already enough with this administration trampling conscience rights and religious liberties protected in the Constitution. Than he clamped down on speech rights of Army chaplains, for crying out loud.

And this man wrote a book about audacity.

Obama silenced chaplains last weekend.

In Catholic churches across the country, parishioners were read letters from the pulpit this weekend from bishops in their diocese about the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services giving Catholics a year before they’ll be required to start violating their consciences on insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs. But not in the Army.

A statement released this afternoon — which happens to be the 67th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Dorchester, on which four chaplains lost their lives – from the Archdiocese for Military Services explains:

On Thursday, January 26, Archbishop Broglio emailed a pastoral letter to Catholic military chaplains with instructions that it be read from the pulpit at Sunday Masses the following weekend in all military chapels. The letter calls on Catholics to resist the policy initiative, recently affirmed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, for federally mandated health insurance covering sterilization, abortifacients and contraception, because it represents a violation of the freedom of religion recognized by the U.S. Constitution.

The Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains subsequently sent an email to senior chaplains advising them that the Archbishop’s letter was not coordinated with that office and asked that it not be read from the pulpit.  The Chief’s office directed that the letter was to be mentioned in the Mass announcements and distributed in printed form in the back of the chapel.

Archbishop Broglio and the Archdiocese stand firm in the belief, based on legal precedent, that such a directive from the Army constituted a violation of his Constitutionally-protected right of free speech and the free exercise of religion, as well as those same rights of all military chaplains and their congregants.
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Following a discussion between Archbishop Broglio and the Secretary of the Army, The Honorable John McHugh, it was agreed that it was a mistake to stop the reading of the Archbishop’s letter.  Additionally, the line: “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law” was removed by Archbishop Broglio at the suggestion of Secretary McHugh over the concern that it could potentially be misunderstood as a call to civil disobedience.

The AMS did not receive any objections to the reading of Archbishop Broglio’s statement from the other branches of service.

So not only were chaplains told not to read the letter, but an Obama administration official edited a pastoral letter . . . with church buy-in?

Didn’t people flee across an ocean-sized pond to be free of this kind of thing?

The news got around a bit, though not widely, that the military was telling chaplains what they could and couldn’t say about the administration.

All the bishops in the country sent out a letter to be read in their parishes promising that the Church “cannot-and will not-comply with this unjust law.”

Even Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who is in charge of Catholic military chaplains sent out the same letter. 

But after he did, the Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains sent out another communication forbidding Catholic priests to read the letter, in part because it seemed to encourage civil disobedience, and could be read as seditious against the Commander-in-Chief.

More than one Catholic chaplain who spoke to us off the record confirmed that many chaplains disobeyed this instruction and read the letter anyway. Others sought further instructions from their Archbishop.

Now after much behind-the-scenes bureaucratic wrangling, a new version of the letter will be read, one that was edited of the language about “unjust laws.”

A new statement issued this afternoon from Archbishop Broglio’s office acknowledged the interference this way:

“Archbishop Broglio and the Archdiocese stand firm in the belief, based on legal precedent, that such a directive from the Army constituted a violation of his Constitutionally-protected right of free speech and the free exercise of religion, as well as those same rights of all military chaplains and their congregants.

“Following a discussion between Archbishop Broglio and the Secretary of the Army, The Honorable John McHugh, it was agreed that it was a mistake to stop the reading of the Archbishop’s letter.  Additionally, the line: “We cannot-we will not-comply with this unjust law” was removed by Archbishop Broglio at the suggestion of Secretary McHugh over the concern that it could potentially be misunderstood as a call to civil disobedience.

It’s an issue that Catholic chaplains are taking very seriously in private. We obtained a confidential letter sent to the chaplains that  prepares priests to contact the Military Archdiocesan lawyer in case of more interference or any punishment.

“The Archdiocese believes that any attempt to keep a chaplain from freely teaching and preaching the Catholic faith, for which you were endorsed, is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

This story reached a higher profile in the news on Tuesday.

The Obama administration has been accused of telling Catholic military chaplains what they can and cannot say from their pulpits after the Army ordered Catholic chaplains not to read a letter to parishioners from their archbishop.

The Secretary of the Army feared the letter could be viewed as a call for civil disobedience.

The letter called on Catholics to resist the policy the Obama Administration’s policy that would force institutions affiliated with religious groups to provide coverage for birth control, sterilization and “abortifacients.” The Catholic Church believes the mandate represents an unconstitutional violation of freedom of religion.

This is blowing up on the Obama adminsitration. It’s ‘a bridge too far.’

“Archbishop Broglio and the Archdiocese stand firm in the belief, based on legal precedent, that such a directive from the Army constituted a violation of his Constitutionally-protected right of free speech and the free exercise of religion, as well as those same rights of all military chaplains and their congregants,” read a statement provided to Fox News from the Archdiocese of the Military Services.

According to the AMS, Archbishop Broglio had a telephone conversation with Secretary of the Army John McHugh.

The issue raises a question among critics: did administration official tell the Catholic Church what it could and could not say in the pulpit?

It follows suit, after telling the Catholic Church what it could no longer do in practice according to its moral beliefs.

There were late reports Tuesday that the administration was starting to think about walking this back, after the blowup. That has yet to be determined. But this is going to loom large in the elections. Obama is losing the friends he had in the Church, and he can’t afford that.

The president of the Catholic Health Association, a trade group representing Catholic hospitals that defied church bishops to provide critical support for Obama’s health care law and is now fighting the birth control requirement, said she thinks the administration is starting to feel the pressure.

“I do know many people who care about this administration and this president and the good works that Catholic organizations have done are raising this issue,” said Sister Carol Keehan. “I do know the administration is concerned. This was never done with the intent of creating a huge problem for the Catholic Church, but it certainly ended up doing that.”

Stay tuned.

Obama’s ‘war on the church’

This was an extraordinary provocation.

On the day after Pope Benedict warned the church in America about unprecedented political and cultural threats to religious freedom, the Obama adminstration issued a mandate that will force religious institutions to comply with health care rules profoundly against their fundamental moral beliefs.

The ACLJ was already preparing briefs for the Supreme Court hearing on the Obama healthcare legislation, based on the individual mandate that required citizens to purchase something, by federal law, for the first time. Now, that mandate requires them to purchase something that violates their moral conscience.

Never before has an American president so openly and wantonly disregarded the religious civil liberties of so many.

Last Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would make final the rule mandating that insurance policies provide for contraceptive services, including sterilization, and drugs with an abortifacient mechanism of action.

With this rule, hundreds of religious colleges and hospitals, for example, will now be required –in fact, coerced — into providing insurance coverage for practices they believe to be morally wrong and violative of their religious beliefs. These institutions, which have educated citizens and cared for the infirm for hundreds of years, will now have to cave into the federal government or close their doors.

US Bishops conference president Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, responded time and again, Wednesday in an op-ed piece that ran in the WSJ and many of the nation’s larger newspapers.

Religious freedom is the lifeblood of the American people, the cornerstone of American government. When the Founding Fathers determined that the innate rights of men and women should be enshrined in our Constitution, they so esteemed religious liberty that they made it the first freedom in the Bill of Rights.

In particular, the Founding Fathers fiercely defended the right of conscience. George Washington himself declared: “The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them.” James Madison, a key defender of religious freedom and author of the First Amendment, said: “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.”

Scarcely two weeks ago, in its Hosanna-Tabor decision upholding the right of churches to make ministerial hiring decisions, the Supreme Court unanimously and enthusiastically reaffirmed these longstanding and foundational principles of religious freedom. The court made clear that they include the right of religious institutions to control their internal affairs.

Yet the Obama administration has veered in the opposite direction. It has refused to exempt religious institutions that serve the common good—including Catholic schools, charities and hospitals—from its sweeping new health-care mandate that requires employers to purchase contraception, including abortion-producing drugs, and sterilization coverage for their employees.

What readers from countries outside the US should understand for proper context, this is a radical departure from US law and custom.

Last August, when the administration first proposed this nationwide mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage, it also proposed a “religious employer” exemption. But this was so narrow that…even Jesus and His disciples would not qualify for the exemption in that case, because they were committed to serve those of other faiths.

Since then, hundreds of religious institutions, and hundreds of thousands of individual citizens, have raised their voices in principled opposition to this requirement that religious institutions and individuals violate their own basic moral teaching in their health plans. Certainly many of these good people and groups were Catholic, but many were Americans of other faiths, or no faith at all, who recognize that their beliefs could be next on the block. They also recognize that the cleverest way for the government to erode the broader principle of religious freedom is to target unpopular beliefs first.

Now we have learned that those loud and strong appeals were ignored. On Friday, the administration reaffirmed the mandate, and offered only a one-year delay in enforcement in some cases—as if we might suddenly be more willing to violate our consciences 12 months from now.

In one sweeping move, president Obama and his Catholic health secretary have succeeded in something no other groups or efforts or initatives or projects have been able to do: unite and galvanize Catholics on the right and left. It’s an amazing feat, really.

When Barack Obama secured his party’s nomination for president in 2008, one group of Democrats had special reason to cheer.

These were Democrats who were reliably liberal on policy but horrified by the party’s sometimes knee-jerk animosity to faith. The low point may have been the 1992 Democratic convention. There the liberal but pro-life governor of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey Sr., was humiliated when he was denied a speaking slot while a pro-choice Republican activist from his home state was allowed.

With Mr. Obama, all this looked to be in the past…And Mr. Obama would go on to capture a majority of the Catholic vote.

Now, suddenly, we have headlines about the president’s “war on the Catholic Church.” Mostly they stem from a Health and Human Services mandate that forces every employer to provide employees with health coverage that not only covers birth control and sterilization, but makes them free. Predictably, the move has drawn fire from the Catholic bishops.

Less predictable—and far more interesting—has been the heat from the Catholic left, including many who have in the past given the president vital cover. In a post for the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters minces few words. Under the headline “J’ACCUSE,” he rightly takes the president to the woodshed for the politics of the decision, for the substance, and for how “shamefully” it treats “those Catholics who went out on a limb” for him.

The message Mr. Obama is sending, says Mr. Winters, is “that there is no room in this great country of ours for the institutions our Church has built over the years to be Catholic in ways that are important to us.”

Mr. Winters is not alone. The liberal Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, blogged that he “cannot imagine a more direct and frontal attack on freedom of conscience”—and he urged people to fight it. Another liberal favorite, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., has raised the specter of “civil disobedience” and vowed that he will drop coverage for diocesan workers rather than comply. They are joined in their expressions of discontent by the leaders of Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities, which alone employs 70,000 people.

In the run-up to the ruling, the president of Notre Dame, the Rev. John Jenkins, suggested a modest compromise by which the president could have avoided most of this strife. That would have been by allowing the traditional exemption for religious organizations. That’s the same understanding two of the president’s own appointees to the Supreme Court just reaffirmed in a 9-0 ruling that recognized a faith-based school’s First Amendment right to choose its own ministers without government interference, regardless of antidiscrimination law.

A few years ago Father Jenkins took enormous grief when he invited President Obama to speak at a Notre Dame commencement; now Father Jenkins finds himself publicly disapproving of an “unnecessary government intervention” that puts many organizations such as his in an “untenable position.”

Here’s just part of what he means by “untenable”: Were Notre Dame to drop coverage for its 5,229 employees, the HHS penalty alone would amount to $10 million each year.

The irony, of course, is that the ruling is being imposed by a Catholic Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, working in an administration with a Catholic vice president, Joe Biden. A few years back the voluble Mr. Biden famously threatened to “shove my rosary beads” down the throat of those who dared suggest that his party’s positions on social issues put it at odds with people of faith. Does he now mean to include Mr. Winters, Cardinal Mahony and Father Jenkins?

Catholic liberals appreciate that this HHS decision is more than a return to the hostility that sent so many Catholic Democrats fleeing to the Republican Party these past few decades. They understand that if left to stand, this ruling threatens the religious institutions closest to their hearts—those serving Americans in need, such as hospitals, soup kitchens and immigrant services.

Conservatives may enjoy the problems this creates for Mr. Obama this election year. Still, for those who care about issues such as life and marriage and religious liberty that so roil our body politic, we ought to wish Catholic progressives well in their intra-liberal fight. For we shall never arrive at the consensus we hope for if we allow our politics to be divided between a party of faith and a party of animosity to faith.

Stay tuned. This is ramping up by the day.