If President Obama thought he could separate the Catholic Church from other critics of the ObamaCare mandate compelling believers to pay for services that violate their faith, he was wrong. The administration thought the compromise it announced February 1 would accomplish just that objective since it broadened the narrow exemptions from the Health and Human Services Department mandate to include religious non-profits. But while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed this movement, it rightly noted that it fell far short of guaranteeing that persons of faith would have their religious freedom protected from the dictates of the federal government. As the organization’s statement made clear, the head of the conference, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City, listed three major problems with the proposal:
He [Cardinal Dolan] listed three key areas of concern: the narrow understanding of a religious ministry; compelling church ministries to fund and facilitate services such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization that violate Catholic teaching; and disregard of the conscience rights of for-profit business owners.
In refusing to be co-opted into the mandate to pay for abortion and contraceptive services, the bishops have made it clear that the fight against the strong-arming of faith by the government will not go unchallenged. In doing so, they deserve the support of all faith groups as well as all persons of conscience who value the protections guaranteed Americans by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The point of this exchange as far as the administration was concerned was an effort to isolate those who are still pursuing legal challenges against the mandate by offering the church a plausible path to retreat from the confrontation. Doing so would have been taking the easy way out for the church since most of their institutions have now been rendered exempt. But Cardinal Dolan and his colleagues have rightly pointed out that the underlying compulsion of the Mandate would still compromise their faith as well as leave private business owners vulnerable to such coercion.
It needs to be reiterated that you don’t have to agree with the Church’s views about abortion or contraception to support their stand on this issue. Contrary to the false narrative on this issue alleging that a faux “war on women” was being waged by opponents of the mandate that was used by the president during his re-election campaign, what is at stake here is an attempt by the administration to narrowly redefine the concept of religious liberty. If the president prevails on this point, the right to dissent on religious grounds from prevailing views about these matters will be swept out of the public square and confined to the right to preach about it in houses of worship.
By entangling the Church in the ObamaCare system in this manner and allowing neither agencies nor their employees or private businesses to opt out, the government is enacting a rule that tramples on their freedom.
Cardinal Dolan eloquently summed up this dilemma:
In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath. We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.
There is no reasonable argument to be made on behalf of the idea that there is a constitutional right to free contraception or abortion, but if the government decides, as it has with ObamaCare, to enact a new entitlement to provide such services it may do so. Yet the desire to implement this entitlement cannot be allowed to override or negate the constitutional right to freedom of religion. This is an issue that cannot be dismissed on the ground that the majority of Americans don’t oppose contraception or do not otherwise share the faith of those groups and individuals who are challenging the mandate in court. If the rest of the country watches passively as the mandate is fought in the name of religious liberty, we will all be the losers. The Church is right to stand its ground. It should not be allowed to stand it alone.