(CNN) - After weeks of attacking President Barack Obama's economic record, Mitt Romney took a sharply different tack Thursday in his latest television ad, going after the president for policies the Republican challenger amounts to a "war on religion."
In the spot, which also features footage from Romney's trip in July to Poland, an announcer says Obama's heath care law forces religious institutions to "go against their faith."
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"Who shares your values?" the announcer asks. "President Obama used his healthcare plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith. Mitt Romney believes that's wrong."
In a press release that accompanied the ad, the campaign justifies the "war on religion" claim using an editorial published in the San Antonio Express News in February, as a political firestorm waged over a controversial federal rule requiring employers cover contraception in their health insurance plans.
The rule in question mandated all employers, including religiously affiliated organizations like hospitals and colleges, provide free contraception to employees through health insurance plans. Churches were exempted from the law.
After uproar from conservatives and religious groups, Obama announced an accommodation to the rule on February 10. Under the new plan, religiously affiliated universities and hospitals will not be forced to offer contraception coverage to their employees. Insurers will be required, however, to offer complete coverage free of charge to any women who work at such institutions.
A poll taken in March by the Public Religion Research Institute showed a majority of Americans - 54% - said religiously affiliated colleges and universities should be required to provide employees with health care plans that cover contraception.
Romney's thirty-second ad, titled "Be Not Afraid," does not directly reference the contraception rule, or the subsequent accommodation from the Obama adminstration.
After the "war on religion" segment, the ad uses a clip of Romney speaking in Poland.
"In 1979, a son of Poland, Pope John Paul II, spoke words that would bring down an empire: 'Be not afraid,'" Romney is showed saying.
"When religious freedom is threatened, who do you want to stand with?" the announcer asks.
Romney's speech in Warsaw marked his last public remarks on a week long, three-country foreign swing in July that was meant to bolster his foreign policy credentials. The trip also brought the candidate to London and Israel - two stops marred by stumbles, including a suggestion that the organizers of the London Olympics were ill prepared to host the 2012 Games. In Israel, his remarks in support of the Jewish state provoked an angry response from Palestinian leaders. But his stop in Poland was largely free of any major gaffe from the candidate.
In Thursday's ad, Romney is shown meeting with Lech Walesa, the shipyard worker who went on to inspire the Solidarity trade union and the eventual fall of the Iron Curtain. When Romney was in Poland, Walesa effectively endorsed him for president.
Romney's ad Thursday could be seen as a direct appeal to Catholic voters, who according to national exit polls went for Obama over Sen. John McCain in 2008 54%-45%. Organizations of Catholic bishops have led the charge against the contraception provision in Obama's heath care law.
Obama, who was campaigning in Colorado Wednesday, also subtly harkened back to February's debate over contraception. He was introduced by Georgetown University Law Center graduate Sandra Fluke, who was at the center of the controversy earlier this year after testifying to Congress about the importance of providing birth control to employees of religiously affiliated institutions.
Responding to the Romney ad, an Obama spokeswoman defended the president's contraception stance.
“President Obama believes that, in 2012, women should have access to free contraception as part of their health insurance, and he has done so in a way that respects religious liberty," Lis Smith wrote. "Churches are completely exempt and religiously affiliated organizations that object to providing the service will never have to pay for contraception. Mitt Romney apparently disagrees with this approach and it’s no surprise why. He has pledged to ‘get rid of’ of federal funding for Planned Parenthood and would take women’s health back to the 1950’s. Women can’t afford his extreme policies."
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It is really about the GOP War on Women
The War on Religion is easily the most hilarious imaginary war of the decade.
Mr. Romney, it takes honesty and integrity to be the President of the United States of America. You sir have not one of the two.
This is pretty simple – if it's not a church, you follow the rules like everybody else....religiously affiliated or not.
How utterly stupid. Should be called "Religion's War on US"
Wow, this sounds like complete desperation. I almost feel sorry for the man. Does he not know people are a little more intelligent than that. It appears that religion has been stucking its nose in politics long enough now to take away their tax exempt status. That should help balance the budget and pay for their stupid wars and corporate welfare.
This policy does not conflict with any individuals religious beliefs. No person is required to use birth control. It guarantees an equal choice for all insured people. It prevents organizations (religious or otherwise) from imposing their religious views on their employees.
The War on Sanity, as these ads become more and more outrageous and twisted.
Romney is losing because of his ridiculous irrationality
Please leave religion out of politics and out of the government. It is simply not wise to make decisions that favor one religion over another. People are free to believe whatever they want and the government needs to stay out of it.
Just how is the President of the United States creating a "war on religion"? This is a country where religion has nothing to do with the goverment and anyone can practice whatever religion they want to practice, or not practice at all. Romney is spending an awful lot of money lying about the President of the United States and people need to learn the facts, yes, I said facts.
War on religion? Really? Where do these poor souls come up with this negative foolishness.
BE NOT AFRAID!!!! Romney is right. But what is his stance on gay marriage?? Obama has lost my vote already.
Due to contraception coverage, get real Romney, the vast % of religious families use or have used birth control. More like you just double downed on the GOP's war on women.
If Americans believe Health care is a war on Religion, you absolutely deserve the Government you get. In a Country that is supposed to be governed in a non religious way, so many of you are so similar to the fanatics you so often criticize.
Romney's right. The 14% that make up the Athiest Left have undertaken a large endevour to eitther "convert" the 86% that is religious to their thinking , or run them out of the country. Not likely.
Romney is waging a 'war on intelligence'.
He will lose in a landslide.
Actually, nobody is forcing women to use birth control against their faith. THAT would be a "war on religion." What the heath care ruling says is, Church sponsored employers cannot withhold legal birth control from employees who choose to use it. As a married, middle aged Protestant mother of grown children, I would not want my employer's religious position to have anything to do with my health choices.
In the Catholic church I go to, a tea party lady got up and passed out little booklets called "A Brief Catechism for the Catholic Voter" which stated that if you vote for a pro-choice candidate (i.e., Democrat), you are complicit in killing a baby and therefore committing a mortal sin, and nothing scares a Catholic more than the words Mortal Sin. However, the booklet stated that capital punishment is OK because we are ridding society of the bad guys, although I think there is something called life in prison without parole that would work without taking a life, since they are so pro-life.
I had a long talk with the priest, and suggested that he just put an insert in next week's bulletin saying "If you vote for Obama, you're going to Hell!" Boil it down to one sentence they can understand. The Catholic church is being used by the uber-right wing Republicans to push their agenda with this war on religious freedom garbage. Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?
If a person is truly religious and certain practices are onerous to them they will use the strength of their convictions to avoid birth control, abortions and the million other things religious people fear. What is the problem? It is every American's right to have legal options available to them. Don't the high priests trust their own flock?
The war on religion is as fake as the religions themselves...
This country needs more freedom FROM religion.
Is this the Hail Mary?? Wow, even before he chooses a VP candidate he appears to be swinging wildly on an 0-2 pitch and PRAYING he makes contact. Swing and a miss... To bad, back in March I thought this race had promise. It's officially over on Aug 9. Hang on til Labor Day so I'll have a little incentive to watch Romney get dusted like the top of 6 ft book shelf in the debates.
Poor Romney. It must be very frustrating to have all that campaign cash and not have anything tangible to spend it on....lol
GOP's war on science, blah, blah, blah....Evolution is science blah, blah, blah... Life has no purpose... Only stupid people believe in God... blah..
GOP's war on women, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah
If militant atheists (like Dawkins) had their way in this country, it would make what happened to Christians in communist Russia under Stalin look like a picnic.
Mitthead supporters! Read what Romney said about Israel's healthcare system just recently on his tour abroad. Healthcare is good for other countries but not Americans