U.S. GOVERNMENT MANDATES RELIGIOUS BODIES TO VIOLATE THEIR CONSCIENCES
Amidst much protest from Catholics, the University of Notre Dame in 2009 invited Barack Obama to give the commencement address. Those protestors considered him too supportive of abortion to speak at a Catholic University that is morally opposed to what it considers a grave sin. The University President, a priest, still had Obama deliver the address, and Obama obliged. During that speech, Obama stated:
Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health-care policies are grounded not only in sound science but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women.
The department of Health and Human Services recently advanced an ultimatum that bears little to no resemblance to that statement. In a January 20, 2012 press release, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated:
Today the department is announcing that the final rule on preventive health services will ensure that women with health insurance coverage will have access to the full range of the Institute of Medicine’s recommended preventive services, including all FDA -approved forms of contraception. ... [W]e have decided to add an additional element to the final rule. Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law. ... This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule.
First, let us be reminded, FDA-approved forms of contraception include abortifacients.
Second, it is worth noting the delusion Sebelius exhibits when she says she's giving religious bodies time to "adapt" to this demand. There's nothing to "adapt" to. There is no choice for a faithful Catholic or other religious citizen who considers abortion and contraception sinful. The soul for compliance is no trade. It is an entirely alien idea to Sebelius that someone could consider abortion and contraception objective sins. And this is the case regardless that she is a so-called "Catholic" herself.
Even though this law would demand that citizens commit what they believe are objectively grave sins, Sebelius actually considers this ultimatum to be a compromise. Amazingly, she stated:
I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.
You are not in the Twilight Zone. That is what the press release states. Of course, there is no "balance" in "respecting religious freedom" in this ultimatum. This is like telling a death row inmate, "There are people who believe you are guilty and people who believe you are innocent. As a compromise, we've decided to postpone your execution and let you live a few more days." But there is no compromise or "balance" regardless of the serpentine language claiming otherwise.
Sebelius offered the following justification to order religious bodies to violate their consciences:
Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, it is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women.
Even if one completely agrees with that description, since when does the government demand insurance companies to provide payment for anything that has "health benefits," "reduces costs," and is "commonly taken." I can think of hundreds of such things, yet the government mandates none of them as part of insurance. Why do they not insist water be paid for? Why do they not insist blankets be paid for? Why not shoes? Are these not more vital than having sex? Shoes prevent chaffing, cuts, injury, and the accumulation of filth which can lead to infection. And I guarantee even more people in the United States wear shoes than take birth control. Yet, nowhere are shoes discussed in this plan.
Might it not be fair to consider there might be other motives to include anti-Church demands in this so-called "health care" mandate?
In October 2011, Sebelius spoke to NARAL, a pro-abortion organization. Defending the Administration's health care ambitions, she said:
In other words, they don’t just want to go after the last 18 months, they want to roll back the last 50 years in progress women have made in comprehensive health care in America. We’ve come a long way in women’s health over the last few decades, but we are in a war.
And lest we forget, the Obama Administration threatened the State of Indiana last year unless it funded the leading abortion organization in the U.S., Planned Parenthood.
Might we not acknowledge that this is a war with the pro-life movement? What bigger pro-life ally is there than the Catholic Church? Might we not realize that this is not about women's health but about opposing the Church? The term "women's health" in this case is just as inappropriate as "preventive care" is to forcing non-profit religious groups to pay for birth control.
ECHOES OF THE SUPREME COURT'S RULING ON JANUARY 11Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard the Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC case. At issue was a Michigan Lutheran school teacher who claimed her dismissal was discriminatory. However, the school had hired her on the grounds that she was a commissioned minister.
The Supreme Court ruled against the federal agency by a vote of 9-0. Chief Justice Roberts stated in the unanimous ruling:
“The right to freedom of association is a right enjoyed by religious and secular groups alike,” writes the Chief Justice. “It follows under the EEOC's and Perich's view that the First Amendment analysis should be the same, whether the association in question is the Lutheran Church, a labor union, or a social club. See Perich Brief 31; Tr. of Oral Arg. 28. That result is hard to square with the text of the First Amendment itself, which gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations. We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization's freedom to select its own ministers.”
In other words, it is not the business of the federal government to tell religious bodies who they must and must not employ as ministers based on their own beliefs and authorities. Even more relative to the current matter of the HHS vs. the Church were concurring comments by Justices Alito and Kegan:
“Throughout our Nation's history, religious bodies have been the preeminent example of private associations that have ‘act[ed] as critical buffers between the individual and the power of the State.’ Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 619 (1984). In a case like the one now before us—where the goal of the civil law in question, the elimination of discrimination against persons with disabilities, is so worthy—it is easy to forget that the autonomy of religious groups, both here in the United States and abroad, has often served as a shield against oppressive civil laws. To safeguard this crucial autonomy, we have long recognized that the Religion Clauses protect a private sphere within which religious bodies are free to govern themselves in accordance with their own beliefs. The Constitution guarantees religious bodies ‘independence from secular control or manipulation—in short, power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.’ Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church in North America, 344 U.S. 94, 116 (1952).”
Let me reiterate, in the case of Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the federal government's position against religious bodies was condemned by a vote of 9-0. Not to say the Court is infallible, but that might be indicative for how bad the fed position was.
Regardless of the defeat, the federal government cavalierly advanced this legally suspect ultimatum which has induced at least two lawsuits already (see bottom of post).
BISHOPS DEFEND CHURCH TEACHING
The Bishops' and other Church leaders' response to the HHS ultimatum can be read in press releases Bishops Decry HHS Rule and U.S. Bishops Vow to Fight HHS Edict. Here is a sampling following the Jan. 20 HHS ultimatum:
Never before in our US History has the Federal Government forced citizens to directly purchase what violates our beliefs. At issue here as our President of the Conference stated it this past Friday, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for conscience and religious liberty. (Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston)In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,. To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. ... The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand. The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation. We will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision. ( Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York)This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights. (Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairperson of the board at Franciscan Alliance, Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals.)
Catholic radio host Al Kresta interviewed Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron today in the first hour of the show (download MP3 archive here).
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has filed two lawsuits against this government ultimatum.
The Thomas More Law Center has filed cases against the ongoing health care issue.
Pope Benedict XVI voiced support for the U.S. Bishops fighting for religious liberty.
Church teaching on abortion and contraception from Theology of the Body, Humana Vitae, and you can keyword search the Catechism here.
Catholic Answers apologetics on the issue of contraception.