In 2012, the conservative “campaign for religious liberty” looked like a smart and possibly winning strategic gambit. Aimed specifically at the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate, nestled in a broader claim of institutional and individual exemptions from complex and sometimes unpopular laws and regulations, the campaign linked the Conference of U.S. Catholic Bishops with conservative evangelicals and both to the Republican politicians (including presidential candidate Mitt Romney) who made it a new front in both their anti-Obamacare and “family values” messaging.
Some leading Catholic Democrats (e.g., E.J. Dionne) feared it would become a crucial wedge issue. And it gave a nice First Amendment gloss to unseemly culturally reactionary impulses, while providing mainstream respectability to the “constitutional conservative” claim that church-state separation was a threat to faith itself.
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