Professor Doug Kmiec, a Catholic supporter of Barack Obama in the 2008 election, has rebuked the president, saying he may withdraw his endorsement over the federal contraception coverage mandate.
“Where is the common good, sir, in not making room for the great Catholic traditions of education, health care, and meeting the needs of the least among us?” Kmiec asked the president in a letter he made public Feb. 6 through the website Catholic Online.
On the same day, the Washington, D.C. newspaper The Hill published excerpts of an e-mail from Kmiec saying he was “now unhappily without a candidate,” until he could “have an opportunity to speak with the president” about Health and Human Services' new rules on contraception coverage.
“This matter goes to the heart of who we are as a people,” Kmiec stated in his letter to the president, as he went on to ask why Obama would “put the cold calculus of politics above faith and freedom.”
The Pepperdine University professor, who served as U.S. ambassador to Malta from 2009 to 2011, suggested the president was forcing him to choose between “friendship” and his “duty to faith and country.”
“The Barack Obama I knew would never have asked me to make that choice,” he wrote.
On Jan. 20, Health and Human Services finalized rules on “preventive services,” which will take effect under the health care law signed by President Obama.
Over 160 U.S. Catholic bishops have spoken out against the mandate, which will require religious employers to cover contraception and sterilization. An exemption exists only for institutions that primarily work to “inculcate religious values” and mainly employ and serve members of their own faith.
In his e-mail to The Hill, Kmiec said he was left wondering, “Why exactly did we not walk down a path that would have led to common ground – namely, coverage without ethical objection?
“That’s what I need answered before deciding on 2012,” he wrote.
The former Maltese ambassador said he found it “most troubling to be tossed into this dilemma,” since he remains “very proud of the president’s success on the healthcare initiative” and other issues.
Both Kmiec's letter to the president, and his e-mail to The Hill, show a stronger opposition to the mandate than he had previously expressed in the run-up to the final rule.
During 2011, the former ambassador had called for a broader religious exemption, while simultaneously maintaining that even a universal mandate would not infringe on religious freedom.
In a Nov. 22 National Catholic Reporter column, he said there was “no violation of religious liberty when HHS announces a temporary or permanent regulation requiring all employers – religious or nonreligious, Catholic or not – to provide employees with an insurance benefit for artificial contraception.”
Religious freedom, Kmiec said in that essay, would only have been violated if the department had “demanded a religious employer to affirmatively endorse or require the use of artificial contraception or any other choice contrary to its own teaching.”
A vast majority of the U.S. bishops, however, have declared that the rule violates the Church's rights over its own ministries.
While Kmiec stopped short of explicitly reversing his past defense of the mandate, his rebuke of the president contained strong words on the topic of religious freedom.
Kmiec said the president's profession of faith at the Feb. 3 National Prayer Breakfast had “touched neither soul nor heart in the room,” coming just two weeks after his administration finalized the contraception rule over the objections of Catholics and others.
“In deciding against a reasonable accommodation of Catholic concerns in the implementation of the health care program, you lost sight of your own beliefs … The polite, but tepid applause this morning was a sign of concern that you have lost your way on this most essential topic.”
Kmiec warned the president that he had “already lost the votes” of many “people of independent mind.”
A self-described pro-life Catholic and Republican, Kmiec served as a constitutional legal counsel to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He caused controversy in 2008 by endorsing Barack Obama, arguing that his policies could reduce abortion without making it illegal.
Kmiec had previously worked as an adviser to Mitt Romney during his bid for the 2008 Republican nomination, until Romney's withdrawal from the race. In a February 2008 Slate column, Kmiec noted that Romney had spoken out “in defense of the best traditions of religious liberty” during his campaign.