2011-12-26 / Commentary

Separation of Newt and state

WASHINGTON — Just when you thought Newt couldn’t get any more grandiose, he leaps in to save freedom of religion in the most religiously free place on earth.

Recently on his website, he urgently vowed to establish a White House commission “On Day One” of his presidency (heaven forefend) “to examine and document threats or impediments to religious freedom in the United States.”

Watching his numbers falling in Iowa, he doubled down on his unconstitutional assault on “ activist judges,” saying he would investigate “the extent to which courts throughout the U.S. are undermining the First Amendment and misconstruing the historical basis for religious freedom in America.”

His latest manifesto, which should have been addressed “Dear Iowa Fundamentalist Caucus goers,” states: “As litigants demand that courts and judges intervene to create new ‘rights’ out of whole cloth, such litigants and their supporters seek to limit the freedom of others to express their deeply held religious commitments to, for example, the value of every human life and to marriage as between one man and one woman.”

As opposed to one man and three women? Nobody is forcing Christians to marry anyone they don’t want to marry; they’re preventing gays from marrying people they want to marry.

Gingrich doesn’t seem concerned about the religious freedom of Muslims. He compared the Muslims trying to put up a mosque near ground zero to Nazis putting up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum.

President Newt just wants the right to limit other people’s rights in the name of religion.

He promised to probe any new health and human services mandate “that would require healthinsurance plans to cover contraception, sterilization and drugs known to induce abortion that may violate and interfere with the religious freedom of individuals, and weakening of conscience clause protections for health care workers.”

And Savonarola Gingrich will swoop into schools, “from primary to university level,” to see who’s “forcing students to violate their conscience by forcibly imposing beliefs about sexual orientation, gender, same sex ‘marriage’ and abortion.”

In a shot across the bow to President Barack Obama, who is considering whether to bow to Catholic pressure and to grant an exemption from covering contraception in health plans sponsored by employers who object, Gingrich said he would support “the rights of individuals, business and religious institutions that have a conscientious objection to providing or engaging in services that support values they oppose.”

In a recent article in The Times, Laurie Goodstein called Gingrich “ a culture wars Catholic,” very different from a Kennedy-era Catholic, a politician emblematic of conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants joining forces “in what they see as a defining struggle against abortion, samesex marriage and secularism.”

Gingrich was born a Lutheran, became a Southern Baptist at Emory University and converted to Catholicism in 2009. He and Callista, who is a paid singer in the Basilica choir, have made the shrine their stage, becoming stars on the Eternal Word Television Network, which films there.

The Basilica Bookstore sponsored a book signing for Gingrich’s 24th book, “ To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular Socialist Machine.” And the Gingriches produced a documentary last year about John Paul II, celebrating the pope who rejected attempts to liberalize the church.

For anyone who grew up with relatives who could never get annulments even when their spouses abandoned them after a brief time, it was galling to see Gingrich — who divorced twice to marry younger mistresses, and who left his wives when they were sick — be celebrated at a conversion Mass by Washington’s church hierarchy at St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill, where Robert Kennedy attended Mass daily when he served in the Senate.

Monsignor Walter Rossi, the rector of the Basilica, told Goodstein that he had met weekly for seven months with Gingrich to instruct him.

“We have spoken extensively about the fact that the United States and many parts of the world are becoming a secular society where any mention of God is discouraged and, in some places, even forbidden,” Rossi said.

Gingrich has wrapped his political redemption saga in his story of Catholic salvation. He quickly backed away from saying life begins at implantation when he attracted the ire of Roman Catholics, who believe it begins at conception.

At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in April, Gingrich said he talked to Rossi about the “government-favored pagan culture to replace Christianity” in Europe and how it’s spreading here.

“ The American elites are guided by their desire to emulate the European elites and, as a result, anti-religious values and principles are coming to dominate the academic, news media, and judicial class in America,” Gingrich said.

Whatever shrine Newt goes to, he makes into a shrine to himself.

MAUREEN DOWD writes for The New York Times.

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