The White House so delicately catered to the religious sensitivities of Osama bin Laden’s sympathizers that the administration ordered his corpse washed, wrapped it in a white sheet, and made it the subject of Islamic prayers. American Catholics, 54 percent of whom supported Barack Obama in 2008, have no such luck winning the administration’s religious toleration.
At issue is Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s bureaucratic mandate that all employers—including Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities—pay for contraceptives, sterilization, and morning-after pill abortifacients through their health insurance plans. The administration recently revealed that the only relief Catholic conscientious objectors will receive is a reprieve until August 2013.
“The Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, ‘To Hell with you!’ There is no other way to put it,” Bishop David Zubik explained to his Pittsburgh diocese last week. “‘To Hell with your religious beliefs. To Hell with your religious liberty. To Hell with your freedom of conscience.’” Zubik’s fellow bishops were somewhat more diplomatic in the language they used last Sunday.
At the behest of Catholic bishops, parish priests across America read a rebuke to the Obama administration from the pulpit at mass. “The federal government, which claims to be ‘of, by, and for the people,’ has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people—the Catholic population—and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful,” one variant of the letter explained. “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those ‘services’ in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies. In so ruling, the Obama Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty.”
The provision is certainly an assault on liberty. But why did it take an assault on the Church’s liberty for the bishops to recognize this?
The state forcing private employers to buy employees health insurance, let alone the more intrusive dictate of what specifically such coverage must provide, usurps liberty. That an unelected bureaucrat, rather than an elected legislature, would issue an order not promulgated in the alleged enabling legislation assaults democracy. The one-size-fits-all order that men, post-menopausal women, and homosexuals purchase health insurance that pays for birth-control pills, RU-486 abortion pills, and other services that they cannot possibly use imposes a choice that none would freely make.
It was entirely foreseeable that yielding control over a massive portion of the economy to the state would result in the state greedily seizing more than was initially given. But many Catholic clergy enthusiastically endorsed the initial legislation. It would be great if non-Catholics rose to defend the rights of conscience that ObamaCare clearly infringes upon. It would have been even better had Catholic Charities USA not endorsed ObamaCare and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops not repeatedly called universal health care a right. When one endorses an attack on Constitutional rights in the name of non-existent “rights” one shouldn’t be surprised to find one’s own real rights soon under attack. If the bishops weren’t so politically naive prior to the passage of ObamaCare, they would not have had to be so politically courageous in the wake of its passage.
The upshot of the Obama administration’s anti-Catholic edict may ultimately bring harm to non-Catholics as well. Catholic hospitals, youth centers, schools, and homeless shelters serve without regard to religious affiliation. By granting exemptions to religious institutions that serve their flocks alone, such as churches, the bureaucratic fiat may in some cases result in the exclusion of non-Catholics from services they have traditionally enjoyed. Another possibility is six-figure fines for Catholic institutions whose employees refuse to sin at the behest of the state, diverting funds away from the poor and needy toward the government greedy. Such hypothetical situations have precedent. In Massachusetts and Illinois, for instance, the Catholic Church closed down adoption services after the state mandated that it place children with homosexual couples.
What the Bishops said on a Sunday in January will affect how Catholics vote on a Tuesday in November. It may also preface widespread civil disobedience. The bishops’ letter is rather unambiguous on this point: “We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law.”
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