Obama Mandate Threatens Religious Freedom and Freedom of Conscience

By Dave Andrusko

Richard M. Doerflinger, Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

There was never—NEVER—any chance that pro-abortionists would skip the chance to turn today’s meeting of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into a media extravagancy. What are the odds they would stand still for an inquiry into “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State: Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”  Slim and none.

So, no surprise that Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate from the District of Columbia, and Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) would storm out of the hearing in a huff and there would be fireworks. (Maloney later returned.)

I was unable to attend the hearing, but I found an interview the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff conducted in advance of with William Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abbey College, helpful in distilling some of the real issues. That and an admission by Department and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the vice may be much tighter than President Obama pretends.

Belmont Abbey College, a private Catholic college in North Carolina, “joined with the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty to file the first lawsuit against the health reform law’s mandated coverage of contraceptives, a suit that two additional parties have since joined,” according to Kliff.

·         Thierfelder pointed out that the underlying issue is religious liberty. “This is about First Amendment rights, rights of conscience,” he said. “And I think that’s getting a bit lost. This is about religious freedoms that I didn’t see protected in the president’s announcement last week.”

·         That even those who would not ordinarily be their allies “have said it isn’t right,” Thierfelder said. “People are seeing it as a religious liberty issue. And it just seems common sense [not to mandate contraceptives coverage].”

·          Obama’s “accommodation”—that “insurers cover contraceptives rather than a faith-based employer who objects,” as Kliff put it–is “really just shifting things around, like an accounting principle.”

Of course those who opposed the Obama mandate out of religious or moral principle were never persuaded by the gimmick that the insurers—not the religiously affiliated hospitals and universities —would be bound to cover the cost of contraception and sterilization. But that sham doesn’t come close to addressing the case where these religiously affiliated organizations self-insure.

HHS Secretary  Sebelius made it clear yesterday that federal contraceptive coverage requirements will apply to self-insured employers, as well as policies issued by insurance companies.”Yes, I think that we will apply it to both,” Sebelius told reporters after a Senate Finance Committee hearing on President Obama’s proposed budget, according to the Washington Times.

As Richard M. Doerflinger, Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the New York Times, “Putting the obligation on the insurer and not the employer doesn’t help much if they are the same person.”

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