First, a word about what this week’s column is not about.
It’s not about whether Obamacare is the best prescription to cure the drawbacks and disparities in America’s health-care system.
It’s not about policy buzzwords like “individual mandates,” “risk pools” or “severability.”
It’s about just one question: Can the government order its citizens to act against their religious faith?
You probably thought that question had been answered more than 200 years ago. The Founding Fathers hammered out the First Amendment to the Constitution ensuring the free exercise of religion without government meddling.
The White House thinks otherwise.
PRESIDENT OBAMA’S health-care initiative includes a mandate directed at religiously affiliated employers and their health providers. They must offer insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs such as the “morning-after” pill.
In the words of John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America: “It’s like compelling Jehovah’s Witnesses to salute the flag, or Quakers to fight, or Jews to eat pork.”
Of course such a mandate runs utterly contrary to the Catholic Church’s unwavering respect for human life. It’s an unshakable pillar of Catholic faith and a component of its formidable care network – 56 Catholic health-care systems nationwide, whose hospitals employ more than 750,000 workers. One in six U.S. patients – regardless of faith – are treated in Catholic hospitals.
Church officials spent months imploring the Obama administration to grant Catholic caregivers an exemption to the birth-control requirement. Instead, they discovered what could be a new medical disorder: bureaucratic deafness.
NOW, FEDERAL lawsuits have been filed around the country by 43 Catholic dioceses, universities and institutions fighting against the Obamacare mandate.
(I’m explaining all of this just in case you might have missed this huge story on the evening news. The day the story broke, May 21, national news broadcasts on ABC, NBC and CBS devoted just a combined 19 seconds of TV airtime to it.)
The Diocese of Savannah, which oversees Augusta-area Catholic churches, is not a plaintiff in the litigation. But its leader, Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, made the diocese’s position clear in a letter read to all parishes the weekend of May 27. He said, in part:
“We must stress that the concern is not about whether people in this country should have access to the services covered by the mandate; it is rather about whether the government may force religious institutions and individuals to fund services which violate our religious and moral beliefs.”
The Obama administration’s message to Catholic institutions couldn’t be clearer: This is what we believe about contraception and abortion. If you don’t abandon your beliefs and help advance ours, you’ll pay the price.
That’s both literal and figurative. The University of Notre Dame, for example, with its 5,000-plus employees, stands to pay $10 million in fines annually if it stands firmly by Catholic teachings.
A GOVERNMENT penalizing you for embracing your faith? That’s the kind of oppression our ancestors fled, right?
But is birth control the real issue here for the government? In a lot of states, people qualify for free birth control anyway through clinics. And where it’s most inexpensive, you can pick up a simple method of contraception for the price of a pack of gum.
On top of that, no one is being forced to specifically seek Catholic caregivers’ help on contraception matters. If you want birth control, you have the freedom to go somewhere else.
For the White House, it’s not a birth control issue. It’s just a control issue.
Few in the media have hit the nail on the head about this better than political analyst Yuval Levin in National Review. Churches, he points out, help comprise a “mediating layer” of civil society that separates individuals from government.
And separating individuals from government is the last thing the Obama administration wants. If that layer of civil society is scraped away, more citizens will be forced to turn to the smothering cloak of Big Government for protection.
That scraping already has begun, with mixed results. Last October, the Department of
Health and Human Services
defunded a grant to the Conference of Catholic Bishops that supported aid to victims of human trafficking.
Said Jonathan V. Last of The Weekly Standard: “The Obama administration decided that they no longer wanted the Catholic Church in the business of helping these poor souls. That, evidently, is the government’s job.”
And last December, Obama’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tried to argue before the Supreme Court that religious institutions didn’t have the right to control their hiring and firing practices based on religious beliefs.
The justices, thankfully, unanimously laughed that one out of court.
But nobody’s laughing over this.
Catholic institutions have become conscientious objectors in this brewing battle for religious freedom – ironically in a nation that is the world’s most accommodating when it comes to others’ beliefs.
Apparently – sadly – this White House wants a country in which the government extends First Amendment rights to even the most loathsome hate groups, yet refuses to extend those same First Amendment rights to a church whose commitment to heal the sick touches millions of lives.