Zombie memes.

You know it's election season when you start losing track of Catholic conservative organizations. Thanks to the National Review Online, I've learned of another one -- the Catholic Association, whose senior fellow, Ashley McGuire, just enjoyed a relaxing game of slow-pitch with NRO's editor-at-large,Kathryn Jean Lopez. This exhibition match focused on the issue of religious freedom, which works out for McGuire, because her group just put out a "religious-freedom scorecard." A scorecard? That sounds a lot easier to digest than another Catholic voting guide. But it also sounds a little like play-at-home Jeopardy. Turns out it's even simpler. According to McGuire:

The purpose of the scorecard is to provide voters with the facts about President Obama and Governor Romney with regards to religious freedom.... Our system of government only works with an informed citizenry, and this country was founded on the notion that religious freedom is our first freedom. Anything we can do to help voters see how these two men fare on this most crucial of issues, we at the Catholic Association will do.

A benevolent aim, to be sure. Who doesn't like facts? And, according to McGuire, the Catholic Association is willing to do anything to help further its goal. Apparently that includes redefining the word "fact."Lopez lobs McGuire a pitch designed to allow her to repeat one of the scorecard's tall tales: that the Obama administration wants to protect freedom of worship, but not freedom of religion. McGuire:

Beginning a few years ago, the president and important members of his administration such as Secretary Hillary Clinton have been replacing the phrase freedom of religion with freedom of worship. The space between these two phrases is enormous. Freedom of worship implies that religion is something that belongs within the four walls of a church, mosque, synagogue, etc., or around the dinner table in ones home. The phrase freedom of worship treats religion as if it were something unsavory to be kept indoors.

That claim was debunked months ago, yet McGuire peddles it as though it just fell off the meme truck.Paul Moseswas on this in February. After a quick search of the White House website, he turned up a dozen examples of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton using the approved term "religious freedom" (there are many more). And in AprilMollie Wilson O'Reilly corrected the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which included the meme in its statement on religious freedom, "Our First, Most Cherished Liberty." She also noted the apparent source of this claim:a 2010 poston aFirst Thingsblog. Care to guess who wrote it? That's right, Ashley McGuire (then Ashley Samelson).

As Mollie wrote, McGuire's argument, and I use the term liberally, is laughably partisan: "Yet another example of Obamas opponents trying to give a sinister gloss to something ordinary or unremarkable about his person or actions, in order to demonstrate his unfitness for office.... This one, perhaps because it deals with something thats actually significant, somehow gained traction beyond the right-wing fringe. Though groundless, the accusation that the administration has made a significant 'rhetorical shift' was endlessly repeated and widely discussed."Later in the NRO interview, McGuire tells Lopez that "the freedom of religion versus freedom of worship distinction" may be the most important thing on the scorecard "because it gets to the trend underlying all of Obamas actions." Right. If the issue is so important, why hasn't she set aside more time over the past two years to fact-check herself, or to learn how other conservatives -- and state constitutions -- have mentioned"freedom of worship." Instead, here she is once again making the same bogus claim, given new life by the National Review Online.Of course, Election Day is just a few weeks away, the all-Catholic vice-presidential debate is tomorrow, and recent polling data show increasing Catholic support for Obama -- even in swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania(Catholics of both states went with McCain in 2008). So no one should be surprised to see some Catholic conservatives throwing everything at the wall. There's one-time George W. Bush adviser Deal Hudson, waving his arms likethe kid in the back of the class who desperately wants to be called on, trying to get the mainstream media to pick up on one Pennsylvania Catholic's claim that she received two anti-LDS calls "from the Obama campaign" (no one else has corroborated her story). And then there's a Catholic News Agency piece asserting that "Obamacare Subsidizes Abortions for Women Making $90,000" (helpfully, the author clarifies that even a "divorced 38-year-old public-school principal who has three children" [the harlot] and earns that much could receive the subsidy -- a subsidy, as Timothy Jost has pointed out time and again, that exists only in the minds of Obamacare's critics). And of course Lifesitenews is happy to parrot both stories, even if they haven't yet found room on their website to mention Mitt Romney'sclaim that "there's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda."So, yes, some Catholic conservatives seem to have hit the panic button. And I can't blame them. I know lots of Catholics who have differences with President Obama that will prevent them from voting for him. But they're honest differences. Not alarmist canards. 

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

Also by this author
Revelations in Belleville.

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