President Barack Obama’s campaign to woo growing Hispanic communities in southern states being thwarted by his simultaneous campaign to regulate their neighborhood churches, both Catholic and evangelical.
The proposed regulation “has caused an incredible amount of consternation and angst in the Hispanic community. … It is un-American to tell my pastor, my minister, my priest that they have to violate what they believe in,” said Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
The conference represents 18,000 non-Catholic churches and 15 million Hispanic evangelicals, or roughly one third of Hispanics in the United States.
Evidence of a breach was released Feb. 8, when a Rasmussen poll showed that 65 percent of Catholics opposed the proposed regulation, which claims the federal government has the authority to fine religious groups that don’t offer their employees health-insurance with free contraception services.
That percentage is likely higher among white swing-voting Catholics in the must-win states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, and significantly lower among Hispanic voters in southern states.
However, Obama’s deputies are seeking to win 65 percent or more of the Hispanic vote, to offset losses among white voters. In 2008, Obama won 54 percent of all Catholics, and 67 percent of the Hispanic vote.
Rodriguez said the proposed regulation is changing Hispanic evangelicals’ friendly attitudes towards the Obama administration. “All of the sudden it was turned around,” he said. It is “a key moment for how the religious community will support the administration going forward,” he said.
“The federal government is coming after us. … It is an unprecedented level of intrusion into the free exercise of religion. … Across the board, our conversation is that is a line too far,” said Rodriquez, who has repeatedly clashed with Republicans on such issues as immigration rules.
Already, he said, “we are hearing Hispanic voters who supported Obama in 2008 saying ‘We cannot support Obama in 20012.’”
The breach with Rodriguez and other Hispanics clerics is a critical element of a widening split between the Democratic Party’s growing anti-religious progressive wing and the shrinking — but still important — ranks of Democrats who are friendly towards religion.
The fracture is visible on the Hill, where Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut have announced low-key opposition to Obama’s Jan. 20 direction.
The decision, however, is being applauded by many more Democrats, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Jeanne Shaheen.
Many Democratic legislators whose districts include significant blocs of religious groups have stayed quiet. That list includes Senators Patrick Leahy, Debbie Stabenow and Sherrod Brown.
Vice President Joe Biden has not commented on the directive, even though his focus during the 2012 campaign includes outreach to white Catholics in northern swing-states.