Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Has U.S. News and World Report joined the Kulturkampf? A response to Jamie Stiehm's attack on Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Last January, Jamie Stiehm published an article on U.S. News and World Report's web site entitled, "The Catholic Supreme Court's War on Women." The object of Ms. Stiehm's wrath was Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who had enjoined the U.S.government from enforcing the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive-coverage mandate against the Little Sisters of the Poor  while the Little Sisters pursued litigation challenging the provision's constitutionality as it applied to them.

Jamie Stiehm
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The Little Sisters, you remember, had gone to court, arguing that the Affordable Care Act's provision forcing them to provide their employees with contraceptives through the Little Sisters' health insurance  plan was a violation of the religious order's right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.  Their case is now awaiting a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ms.Stiehm accused Justice Sotomayor of "put[ting] religion ahead of jurisprudence" when she enjoined enforcement of the law against the Little Sisters. According to Stiehm, Sotomayor had acted like "a good Catholic girl" when she issued the order and had betrayed women's health and human rights based on her Catholic convictions.

Stiehm went on to attack the entire Catholic Church, charging Catholics--more than other religious groups--with trying to impose their religious beliefs on others. Then, striking a note of almost hysterical hyperbole, Stiehm wrote that "there' no such thing as Catholic justice or mercy for women on the Supreme Court, not even from a woman."

Frankly, Ms. Stiehm's essay is so biased and misguided that I wonder about her professionalism as a journalist.  More importantly, I wonder about the professionalism and objectivity of U.S. News and World Report as a news source. How could this respected news organization have printed such an unfair attack on Justice Sotomayor and the Catholic Church in general?

Let's look at the the event that triggered Ms. Stiehm's wrath. First of all, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, numerous organizations have filed lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act's mandatory contraceptive-coverage provision, and federal courts have granted temporary delays against enforcement of its controversial provision in 19 out of 20 cases (Carmon, 2014). In granting the Little Sisters a temporary injunction, Justice Sotomayor was simply doing what numerous lower courts had been doing in similar litigation.

Secondly, there is no basis for claiming that Catholic Supreme Court Justices are waging a war on women.  If the six Catholic Justices were inclined to render decisions based solely on their religious convictions, Roe v. Wade would have been overturned by now, and it has not been overturned.

Nor has the Supreme Court stepped in to reverse decisions by lower federal courts that have struck down various state constitutional provisions defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman even though this is an issue of vital importance to Catholics.

In my view, it was irresponsible of U.S. News & World Report to publish Ms. Stiehm's essay. Repeated media attacks on the Catholic Church are reminiscent of Germany's Kutlurkampf, when 19th century German liberals backed legislation to persecute Catholics. I would have expected something like this from the New York Times and Frank Bruni, the Times' anti-Catholic rottweiler (to borrow the term Times writers have used to describe Pope Benedict).  But I am surprised that U.S. News and World Report has sunk to such a low level of journalistic bias.

 Bill Donohue, founder of the Catholic League, has called on U.S. News & World Report to fire Stiehm for "anti-Catholic bigotry."  I hope this  once-respected news magazine does censor Stiehm, but I doubt that it will.

Maybe it is time for Catholics to start boycotting newspapers and media that publish anti-Catholic screeds.  I don't subscribe to U.S. News and World Report. But if I did, I would cancel my subscription.


Irin Carmon. Sotomayor delays birth control mandate for Catholic groups. MSNBC online, January 1, 2014. Available at:

Holly McKay. Catholic League wants writer fired for 'bigotry in column. Fox News Online, January 9, 2014. Available:

Jamie Stiehm. The Catholic Supreme Court's War on Women. U.S. News & World Report Online, January 7, 2014. Available at:

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