By Dave Andrusko
We’ve done our best to keep NRL News Today readers current with respect to the clash between the Obama Administration’s mandate that tramples over religious freedoms and the resistance to it by the community of faith, particularly the Catholic Church.
Although you’d never know it by the paltry media coverage, that head-to-head struggle took a quantum leap forward Monday when 43 Catholic dioceses, schools, hospitals, social service agencies, and other institutions filed suit, accusing Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services of violating the First Amendment and federal law by requiring Catholic organizations to “sacrifice their beliefs in order to be able to continue their mission of serving all people in need.” As you recall, the mandate requires not only religious institutions but individuals of conscience to pay for health insurance plans that cover medical procedures and drugs contrary to their religious beliefs and consciences.
E.J. Dionne is a columnist for the Washington Post who routinely runs interference for the Obama Administration. His column this week took the only available tack critics of the litigation could take: the litigation is all about politics which smacks of “an anti-Obama campaign.” Moreover the Catholic Church hierarchy has internal critics who think the 12 separate lawsuits were “premature.”
Set aside for a moment the almost comical notion that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has become the Republican Party at prayer. At the core of Dionne’s argument is that while the Obama Administration admittedly took a false step coming out of the box with its initial Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate, on February 10 it offered a good faith “compromise” that anyone who was sincere would have accepted.
In the same Washington Post newspaper in the same week, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, explained why the Archdiocese of Washington had gone to court. In the process he addressed some of Dionne’s many bogus assertions. But first Cardinal Wuerl made clear that this is not about contraception, rather
“The lawsuit is about religious freedom. As is the norm with such laws, the HHS mandate includes an exemption for religious organizations. If the religious exemption in this case were reasonable, there would have been no need for this lawsuit — after all, we are indeed ‘religious’ under any sensible definition. But this mandate’s religious exemption is the narrowest ever adopted in federal law. For example, it doesn’t include any organization that serves the general public. So under this mandate, our Catholic hospitals, schools and social service programs, which serve all comers, are not ‘Catholic enough’ to be allowed to follow our Catholic beliefs.”
If you are a member of the Dionne school, this doesn’t hold water either (a) because “progressive” Catholics had accepted the “compromise,” or (b) even if there remained some problems with “the underlying regulations,” the “conservative bishops have acted as if it never made any concessions at all.”
But since there are standard talking points for Obama’s supporters, it is not surprising that Cardinal Wuerl addressed them in his piece, headlined, “Protecting our Catholic conscience in the public square.” Wuerl wrote
“You may have heard that at one point the ‘accomodation’ for organizations like ours, which would supposedly transfer the cost of providing the mandated coverage away from the employer and onto its insurance company, which would provide the coverage ‘for free.’ Unlike the mandate itself, this proposal was never adopted into law, nor is it clear whether it will be. The so-called accommodation does not take into account those that are self-insured, like the Archdiocese of Washington, and in any case religious institutions would inevitably be forced to subsidize all of this through increased premiums or fees. Even if there were such a thing as free contraceptives, this isn’t about the money. This is about the government forcing us to violate our beliefs.”
In other words, this is about principle. Author and columnist George Weigel put it this way:
“In sum, the bishops have rebuffed calls for a tactical retreat…There will be no compromise here, for there can be no compromise of first principles. Those who understand that will gather their energies and continue to defend both Catholic and American tradition.”
Finally, as Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia wrote after the “compromise” came down, it
“does not solve the problem. It continues, in its practical effect, to force faithful Catholic employers to violate their religious beliefs. In short, the HHS mandate is coercive and deeply troubling in its implications for the rights of conscience. Nor is this accidental. The administration, despite the good will it has enjoyed from many Catholics, has taken a path that it knows to be unnecessary and knows to be hostile to Catholic belief.”
And what’s behind those two sentences cannot be emphasized enough. It suggests a context of an Administration that simply doesn’t value religious beliefs and the right of conscience—or thinks violating them is a small price to pay to “fire up the base.”
This mandate isn’t the first time that the Obama Administration has attempted to expand government power at the expense of religious liberty, which helps explain why the Catholic Church and other institutions are responding so vigorously.
The Catholic Church and other faith communities are not opposing the mandate to carry water for the Republican Party (as Dionne in fact does do for the Democratic Party). Cardinal Wuerl hit the nail squarely on the head when he wrote
“Allowing religious organizations to serve the public does not violate the separation of church and state. Conscripting us into advancing government objectives against our conscience does.”
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