By Fr. George Welzbacher
February 5, 2012
No matter that in the last fortnight or so the United States Supreme Court issued two resounding, humiliating, unanimous rebukes to the Obama Administration, rejecting as clear violations of the First Amendment (freedom of religion) and the Fourth Amendment (freedom from unreasonable search) Mr. Obama's claim to be able to dictate to a Lutheran church and school (Hosanna-Tabor) just who it might be that they could hire or fire, as well as his assertion of a right to subject an American citizen to prolonged electronic surveillance without a warrant (United States vs. Jones). The Obama Administration, self-assured for all of that, saw fit to issue on January 20th a brand-new imperious decree to the effect that all religious corporations that do not confine their services exclusively to members of their own confession MUST provide their employees with health insurance that includes payment for contraceptive medications (including those that are likely to induce an abortion such as ella and Plan B) and for sterilization procedures as well, even if providing such coverage would constitute a flagrant repudiation of the religious institution's own fundamental principles. The PRIMARY target here (but by no means the only target) is the Catholic Church, and the ultimate goal can plausibly be construed as the DESTRUCTION of Catholic schools and colleges as well as Catholic social agencies, almost none of which confine their services exclusively to those of the Catholic Faith. This tsarist ukase from Mr. Obama's Health and Human Services Department constitutes an outrageous and UNPRECEDENTED self-insertion of the federal government into the internal affairs of religious institutions and as such is an EGREGIOUS VIOLATION OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT. IT IS, AN OPEN DECLARATION OF WAR AGAINST THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AMERICA as well as against individuals and organizations of ANY AND EVERY religious denomination that is resolutely PRO- LIFE. Pending an ultimate decision by the federal Supreme Court on this most recent and most insolent subversion of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience mandated by the Obama Administration, our bishops corporately and individually have called upon America's Catholics NOT SIMPLY TO ROLL OVER AND DIE IN THE FACE OF THIS ASSAULT UPON A CONSTITUTIONALLY GUARANTEED LIBERTY BUT TO STAND UP AND FIGHT with the weapons that the American Constitution provides - principally the right to VOTE in national elections. In the meantime we can let our representatives in Congress know in no uncertain terms that we VIGOROUSLY OPPOSE THIS LATEST IMPLEMENTATION OF THE PROGRAM, ANNOUNCED BY PRESIDENT OBAMA shortly after his inauguration, to, in his own words, "FUNDAMENTALLY TRANSFORM" America.
It is now quite clear that what Mr. Obama has in mind allows little room for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.
May I share with you here the splendid statement issued by Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, who as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops speaks in the name of all of America's Catholic Bishops.
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ObamaCare and Religious Freedom
The Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2012
Religious freedom is the lifeblood of the American people, the cornerstone of the American government. When the Founding Fathers determined that the innate rights of men and women should be enshrined in our Constitution, they so esteemed RELIGIOUS liberty that they made it the first freedom in the Bill of Rights.
In particular, the Founding Fathers fiercely defended the right of conscience. George Washington himself declared: "The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them." James Madison, a key defender of religious freedom and author of the First Amendment, said: "Conscience is the most sacred of all property."
Scarcely two weeks ago, in its Hosanna-Tabor decision upholding the right of churches to make ministerial hiring decisions, the Supreme Court unanimously and enthusiastically reaffirmed these longstanding and foundational principles of religious freedom. The court made it clear that they include the right of religious institutions to control their internal affairs.
Yet the Obama administration has veered in the opposite direction. It has REFUSED TO EXEMPT RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS THAT SERVE THE COMMON GOOD-including Catholic schools, charities and hospitals - from its sweeping new health-care mandate that requires employers to purchase contraception, including abortion-producing drugs, and sterilization coverage for their employees.
Last August, when the administration first proposed this nationwide mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage, it also proposed a "religious employer" exemption. But this was so narrow that it would apply only to religious organizations engaged primarily in serving people of the same religion. As Catholic Charities USA president, the Rev. Larry Snyder, notes: even Jesus and His disciples would not qualify for the exemption in that case, because they were committed to serve those of other faiths.
Since then, hundreds of religious institutions, and hundreds of thousands of individual citizens, have raised their voices in PRINCIPLED OPPOSITION to this requirement that religious institutions and individuals violate their own basic moral teaching in their health plans. Certainly many of these good people and groups were Catholic, but many were Americans of other faiths, or no faith at all, who recognize that THEIR beliefs could be NEXT on the block. They also recognize that the cleverest way for the government to erode the broader principle of religious freedom is to target UNPOPULAR beliefs FIRST.
Now we have learned that those loud and strong appeals were IGNORED. On Friday, the administration reaffirmed the mandate, and offered only a one-year delay in enforcement in SOME cases - as if we might suddenly be more willing to violate our consciences 12 months from now. As a result, all all but a few employers will be forced to purchase coverage for contraception, abortion drugs and sterilization services even when they seriously object to them. All who share the cost of health plans that include such share the cost of health plans that include such services will be forced to pay for them as well. Surely it violates freedom of religion to force religious ministries and citizens to buy health coverage to which they object as a matter of conscience and religious principle.
The rule forces insurance companies to provide these services without a co-pay, suggesting they are "free - but it is naïve to believe that. There is no free lunch, and you can be sure there's no free abortion, sterilization or contraception. There WILL be a source of funding: YOU.
Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay DIRECTLY for actions that violate their teaching is an UNPRECEDENTED incursion into freedom of conscience. Organizations fear that this unjust rule will force them to take one horn or the other of an unacceptable dilemma: STOP serving people of ALL faiths in their ministries - so that they will fall under the narrow exemption - or STOP providing healthcare coverage to THEIR OWN employees.
The Catholic Church defends religious liberty, including freedom of conscience, for everyone. The Amish do not carry health insurance. The government respects their principles. Christian Scientists want to heal by prayer alone, and the new health-care reform law respects that Quakers and others object to killing even in wartime, and the government respects that principle for conscientious objectors. By its decision, the Obama administration has FAILED to show the SAME respect for the consciences of CATHOLICS and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease.
This LATEST erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so FUNDAMENTAL to the life of our nation, one shudders to think WHAT LIES AHEAD.
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Even the Catholic left, which in 2008 had been deployed so effectively as cheerleaders for the Obama campaign, is upset. William McGurn, a brilliant (and devoutly Catholic) commentator for The Wall Street Journal, had this to say in his paper's edition of January 24, 2012.
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Obama Offends the Catholic Left
The Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2012
When Barack Obama secured his party's nomination for president in 2008, one group of Democrats had special reason to cheer. These were Democrats who were reliably liberal on policy but horrified by the party's sometimes knee-jerk ANIMOSITY TO FAITH. The low point may have been the 1992 Democratic convention.
There the liberal but pro-life GOVERNOR OF PENNSYLVANIA, Bob Casey Sr., was humiliated when he was DENIED a speaking slot [in a convention held in Philadelphia the major population center of his own state] while a pro-choice Republican activist from his home state WAS allowed.
With Mr. Obama, all this looked to be in the past. In 2006, the Illinois senator delivered a speech declaring that "secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square." He followed up by appearing at fund-raisers for the anti-abortion Bob Casey Jr. during Mr. Casey's successful run for Sen. Rick Santorum's senate seat.
Sen. Casey went on to co-chair Mr. Obama's National Catholic Advisory Council. Sixteen years after the snub to his dad, he was given a prime-time speaking slot at the 2008 Democratic convention. And Mr. Obama would go on to capture a majority of the Catholic vote.
Now, suddenly, we have headlines about the president's "war on the Catholic Church." Mostly they stem from a Health and Human Services mandate that forces every employer to provide employees with health coverage that not only covers birth control and sterilization, but makes them free. Predictably, the move has drawn fire from the Catholic bishops.
Less predictable - and far more interesting - has been the heat from the Catholic left, including many who have in the past given the president vital cover. In a post for the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters minces few words. Under the headline "J'ACCUSE, " he rightly takes the president to the woodshed for the politics of the decision, for the substance, and for how "shamefully" it treats "those Catholics who went out on a limb" for him.
The message Mr. Obama is sending, says Mr. Winters, is "that there is NO ROOM in this great country of ours for the institutions OUR Church has built over the years to be Catholic in ways that are important to us."
Mr. Winters is not alone. The liberal Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, blogged that he "cannot imagine a more direct and frontal attack on freedom of conscience"-and he urged people to fight it. Another liberal favorite, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., has raised the specter of "civil disobedience" and vowed that he will drop coverage for diocesan workers rather than comply. They are joined in their expressions of discontent by the leaders of Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities, which alone employs 70,000 people.
In the run-up to the ruling, the president of Notre Dame, the Rev. John Jenkins, suggested a modest compromise by which the president could have avoided most of this strife. That would have been by allowing the traditional exemption for religious organizations. That's the same understanding two of the president's own appointees to the Supreme Court just reaffirmed in a 9-0 ruling that recognized a faith-based school's First Amendment right to choose its own ministers without government interference, regardless of antidiscrimination law.
A few years ago Father Jenkins took enormous grief when he invited President Obama to speak at a Notre Dame commencement; now Father Jenkins finds himself publicly disapproving of an "unnecessary government intervention" that puts many organizations such as his in an "untenable position."
Here's just PART of what he means by "untenable": Were Notre Dame to drop coverage for its 5,229 employees, the HHS penalty alone would amount to $10 million EACH YEAR.
The irony, of course, is that the ruling is being imposed by a [nominally] Catholic Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, working in an administration with a Catholic vice president, Joe Biden. A few years back the voluble Mr. Biden famously threatened to "shove my rosary beads" down the throat of those who dared suggest that his party's positions on social issues put it at odds with people of faith. Does he now mean to include Mr. Winters, Cardinal Mahony and Father Jenkins?
Catholic liberals appreciate that this HHS decision is more than A RETURN to the HOSTILITY that sent so many Catholic Democrats fleeing to the Republican Party these past few decades. They understand that if left to stand, this ruling threatens the religious institutions closest to their hearts-those serving Americans in need, such as hospitals, soup kitchens and immigrant services.
Conservatives may enjoy the problems this creates for Mr. Obama this election year.
Still, for those who care about issues such as life and marriage and religious liberty that so roil our body politic, we ought to wish Catholic Progressives well in their intra-liberal fight. For we shall never arrive at the consensus we hope for if we allow our politics to be divided between a party of faith and a party of animosity to faith.
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