Congressman Allen West sent out his weekly newsletter Monday, barraging his constituents with an almost predictable combination of hyperpatriotic mumbo-jumbo and misguided, pseudo-academic posturing about his favorite book in the history of words, the United States Constitution.
Once you get past the part about crying while listening to Whitney Houston's performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner," you get to what must be the meat of West's message: By attempting to mandate employer-provided insurance coverage to include contraception, President Barack Obama is waging war on religion.
West is wrong in every possible way -- about the constitutional reasoning behind his argument, about his nonexistent belief in freedom of religion, and about who is actually responsible for the mandate. We've broken it down into three sections for easier digestion.
1. West doesn't get which part of the Constitution to reference
"The Obama administration's healthcare mandate is not about contraception," West wrote. "It is about a President and an administration that has repeatedly displayed their disregard and disrespect for the Rule of Law and the United States Constitution."
West, however, went further than that: He implied that there's no reason church and state shouldn't be hanging out, holding hands all the time:
The principle of Separation of Church and State is not specifically addressed in the Declaration of Independence or in the Constitution. It was codified in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury (CT) Baptist convention. Jefferson simply articulated that we shall not have a government structure in America where the Head of State is also Head of Church. Unfortunately, this lesson is obviously not understood by the self-proclaimed "constitutional lecturer" President Barack Obama.
Unfortunately for his constituents, West is totally wrong on this one. For a guy who was autographing copies of the Constitution at the CPAC conference last weekend, West is either uninformed about U.S. law or simply not bothered by misrepresenting it to score points with people who don't know any better.
While there is a pile of Supreme Court cases that address the totally real separation of church and state, they hinge mostly on the establishment clause of the First Amendment -- the part about how "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." But according to a constitutional scholar and University of Maryland law school associate dean, Mark Graber, whether that separation exists doesn't much matter in this case.
"The reference is silly here," Graber wrote in an email. "This is a free exercise claim by the Church, not an establihsment [sic] claim. They want exemption from a secular rule."
2. West doesn't actually care about freedom of religion
Now that we've gotten rid of the guff about this separation business, we can get on to West's objection to the contraception mandate on the basis of that other part of the First Amendment, in which the Constitution says the government can't impede the free exercise of religion.
If West actually says he believes in this, it looks like he gets mad only about impeding the free exercise of his religion. West's newsletter deifies the pilgrims using the popular elementary-school myth of the noble search for "a land where they could freely worship without persecution from a State which endeavored to promote, and even impose, its ideals on religion and doctrines." He's wrong on this point, but that's a whole other blog post.
West's main contradiction here is that he believes -- to the point of tears -- in a country in which the state won't persecute people for their religious beliefs. He probably does believe this, especially when he's yelling "God bless the United States" over uproarious applause. But where is his conviction when it comes to religions that his rabid supporters don't like as much?
Of course, that religion is Islam, and the way he's treated American Muslims has been abhorrent -- given a national audience and a chance to bring the level of knee-jerk 9/11 hatred down a level, West has chosen instead to take the side of bigotry, going so far as to say the notion of even a "Coexist" bumper sticker "absolutely incenses" him. When Christians want to deprive people of preventative care, that's totally cool. But when it comes to Muslims having opinions on anything at all, it's "an infiltration of the Sharia practice" and we have to fight it with our dying breaths.
West doesn't give a damn about freedom of religion -- he's using it as an excuse to stand up against contraception because it's what all the cool kids are doing.
3. West is making public statements about mandated contraception because it will get him retweets
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the blatant contradictions in West's argument about mandated contraception -- the easiest one to knock down is a section in the newsletter that says "we are experiencing a President and administration who believe that they have no limits on their infiltration into every realm of our personal life."
Problem is, he's saying this to encourage restrictions on private citizens, citizens who might happen to want birth control. He says stepping into people's lives is "the antithesis of what our Founding Fathers established the federal government to be," then tries to step right into people's lives. It's cool, though, it's cool -- he's read the Federalist Papers.
West's heaping of blame on Obama is likewise misguided. The ruling that caused employers (including religious ones) to provide contraception goes back to -- wait for it -- George W. Bush.
While the initial ruling happened just before Bush took office, various relevant court decisions were issued during his tenure, and the administration remained quiet. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act says religious organizations can discriminate on religious grounds, the courts said, but refusing to provide birth control was discrimination based on gender, and Bush let it ride.
Nobody's running into homes and shoving birth control pills into Catholics -- the ruling simply states that employers whose main business is not religious don't get to decide what medicine women take. It's been more than a decade since this has been put in place -- but West needs political points now, so why not blame the horrible secret Muslim socialist president?
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