Phyllis Schlafly, 88, is an icon in Catholic and Republican circles. The founder and president of the Eagle Forum, Schlafly, a constitutional lawyer, is credited by many as having played the lead role in the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, after a decade-long political fight against the proposed constitutional amendment.
But her greatest contribution, in the eyes of many admirers, is her successful drive to include a pro-life plank in the 1976 Republican platform and her ongoing commitment to keeping the platform pro-life ever since.
Recently, Schlafly authored a book with George Neumayr, contributing editor of The American Spectator, called No Higher Power: Obama’s War on Religious Freedom. The book catalogues and analyzes attacks on religious freedom since President Barack Obama entered office and examines his background to support the authors’ contention that he is opposed to Christianity.
Most significantly, Schlafly and Neumayr look at how the Obama administration has sought to redefine the First Amendment for political ends. Instead of guaranteeing the religious freedom of all Americans, Schlafly and Neumayr argue, Obama’s administration has reduced the First Amendment to mean solely the "freedom of worship."
Schlafly spoke with Register correspondent Sabrina Arena Ferrisi Oct. 16 about her book and threats to religious freedom and Catholicism.
In Chapter 3 of your book, you list 30 events where President Obama’s administration has acted against the religious liberty of Americans. Given that so many Christians voted for him in 2008, do you believe that they knew he would act this way?
No. I don’t think that anyone suspected that. I have been active as a volunteer in politics for many, many years, and it never occurred to me that religious liberty was going to be on the chopping block. It just seemed like a given in American life, where we recognize a full and expansive interpretation of the First Amendment — and now, to have a president come along who really wants to limit and redefine the First Amendment to mean "freedom of worship," just in a church.
In other words, you can go inside your church and say a prayer — and nobody will bother you. But if you dare to step outside where others can see and hear you, then you are subject to the government and its regulations.
Do Catholics understand the range and nature of President Obama’s attacks on religious liberty now? How well do you think the media reports these issues?
Well, I don’t think that people in general understand these attacks. The media, of course, as you know, is very pro-Obama.
In addition to that, we have seen litigations for the last 10 years by the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] and atheist organizations to get rid of demonstrations and pictures and crosses — anything that is religious and Christian. They didn’t really connect this with Obama.
But when Obama was elected, his followers used to chant, "You are the one we’ve been waiting for." He just fit right into that mold and has been tearing things down himself in the many ways I describe in the book.
With regard to the Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate, is this the first time in modern American history that the U.S. government has made a direct attack on the Catholic Church?
I do think it is a direct attack on the Catholic Church, because the Catholic Church is famous for all the hospitals it operates across this country. These are hospitals that were built, financed, maintained and run by Catholics in some way — by orders of nuns, bishops or groups of Catholics. They serve the public. They don’t just serve Catholics. And they are well-run and fine hospitals.
I don’t think people have realized what a direct attack the HHS mandate is on any type of a Christian organization that is outside the Church.
We are told that this was a big battle within the administration. Bill Daley [then chief of staff], who came out of the Chicago machine — son of the famous Mayor [Richard J.] Daley of Chicago — fought bitterly against implementing this mandate. But the one who seems to be calling the shots is Valerie Jarrett, a feminist. Feminists think abortion is the most important thing, and Obama does whatever feminists want. She won that battle, and Daley went back to Chicago.
Obama has alienated Catholics.
Right now, there are at least 43 Catholic institutions that have brought suit against the Obama administration on the HHS mandate. What is the status of these suits? What is the best-case and worst-case scenario?
The only one I know that has had a decision was a lawsuit by a private employer. He got a favorable decision. But that’s not the end of the story. These suits may ultimately go to the Supreme Court.
The best-case scenario is if Obama is defeated and a new government repeals Obamacare — and that would repeal the HHS mandate also.
It could go to the Supreme Court because the HHS mandate is really a redefinition of the First Amendment. If you read American history, we have always had an expansive definition of the First Amendment. You can have pictures of the Ten Commandments and crosses for veterans.
Some of the lawsuits we have seen in the last few years have been really obnoxious: stopping a valedictorian from thanking God during a graduation speech — calling that "unconstitutional" — or stopping prayer before a football game. It’s all part of the idea of the redefinition of the First Amendment to mean "freedom of worship" instead of religious liberty.
The worst-case scenario is that the Supreme Court would say there is no higher power than the federal government and if you want to engage in public life or commerce in any way you have to conform to the regulations they are handing down.
Why does the administration view contraception and abortifacients as a moral good that is more important than the freedom of conscience of practicing Catholics and other Americans? Does this administration not believe in the freedom of conscience?
I’ve been dealing with feminists for the last 30 years. They have a peculiar ideology: Men are the enemy and the oppressor. Yes, this administration does not respect freedom of conscience. Their position is: If the government says so, you have to obey.
In your book, you say, "Most Americans have never regarded the absence of federally mandated contraception and abortifacients coverage in health insurance as a form of oppression." Is it correct to say that Americans in general do not understand how far-reaching the HHS mandate really is?
No, they don’t. But I’m glad to see that the bishops do. Cardinal [Timothy] Dolan has written a very good letter on this issue [to his fellow bishops reiterating the Church’s resolve to resist Obama’s assault on religious freedom].
What is so interesting is that the U.S. Army told the Catholic chaplains that they could not read Cardinal Dolan’s letter at their own religious services. This is how far it has gone: the idea that the government would tell a chaplain what he can and can’t say to his own flock — it blows your mind.
In my book, there are many examples of personal statements that Obama has made. There are numerous times when he has quoted the Declaration of Independence and omitted the word "Creator." He reads from the teleprompter — so it has to be there. We didn’t appoint him to rewrite these documents.
The idea of the "separation of church and state" has often been used to stamp religion out of the public square. What is the true meaning of the separation of church and state, and where does this phrase come from?
The phrase "separation of church and state" is not in the Constitution. Atheists have propagated this expression, which was in a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote. What he meant was that he didn’t want the Baptists to pay taxes to the Anglican Church. He lived in a time when there were many state churches.
The Founding Fathers were very religious. They were always talking about God. They had prayer services in the U.S. Capitol. The "separation of church and state" doesn’t mean banishing religion from the public square. We need to wake up and defend our religious liberty.
Sabrina Arena Ferrisi writes from Larchmont, New York.