I’ve been watching the coverage of several news outlets about the Catholic lawsuits filed against the Obama Administration. The coverage demonstrates that a lot of people misunderstand what is going on.
For example, we must NOT argue for the freedom of Catholic institutions just so that they can help the poor. It is important tto help the poor, but that is not the main argument against Pres. Obama’s attacks. It also must not be diverted into a discussion of women’s rights or contraception.
Someone who really does understand what the bishops and Catholic institutions are doing with this lawsuit is the deeply smart Mary Ann Glendon. She has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the issue. (You may also recall that in the same year Notre Shame gave that toady doctorate to The First Gay President, Glendon declined to accept another award… to her great honor.)
My emphases and comments:
Why the Bishops Are Suing the U.S. Government
The main goal of the contraception mandate is not to protect women’s health. It is a move to conscript religious organizations into a political agenda.
By MARY ANN GLENDON
[First, and in an orderly fashion, the status quaestionis.] This week Catholic bishops are heading to federal courts across the country to defend religious liberty. On Monday they filed 12 lawsuits on behalf of a diverse group of 43 Catholic entities that are challenging the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) sterilization, abortifacient and birth-control insurance mandate.
Like most Americans, the bishops have long taken for granted the religious freedom that has enabled this nation’s diverse religions to flourish in relative harmony. But over the past year they have become increasingly concerned about the erosion of conscience protections for church-related individuals and institutions. Their top-rated program for assistance to human trafficking victims was denied funding for refusing to provide “the full range of reproductive services,” including abortion. For a time, Catholic Relief Services faced a similar threat to its international relief programs. The bishops fear religious liberty is becoming a second-class right. [When, in fact, it ought to be a “first freedom”.]
Along with leaders of other faiths who have conscientious objections to all or part of the mandate, they hoped to persuade the government to bring its regulations into line with the First Amendment, and with federal laws such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that provide exemptions to protect the conscience rights of religious institutions and individuals. [As Card. Dolan – President of the USCCB said “We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress – and we’ll keep at it – but there’s still no fix. Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.” The full statement is HERE.]
On Jan. 20, however, HHS announced it would not revise the mandate or expand its tight exemption, which covers only religious organizations that mainly hire and serve their co-religionists. Instead, the mandated coverage will continue to apply to hospitals, schools and social service providers run by groups whose religious beliefs require them to serve everyone in need.
Continued attempts to solve the problem by negotiation produced only an announcement by the Obama administration in February that insurance providers would pay for the contested services. Since many Catholic entities are self-insured and the others pay the premiums, the bishops’ concerns were not alleviated.
[NB:] The main goal of the mandate is not, as HHS claimed, to protect women’s health. It is rather a move to conscript religious organizations into a political agenda, [There it is!] forcing them to facilitate and fund services that violate their beliefs, within their own institutions. [If you are talking with people about this matter, you would not make a mistake in memorizing that explanation.]
The media[dimwits] have implied all along that the dispute is mainly of concern to a Catholic minority with peculiar views about human sexuality. But religious leaders of all faiths have been quick to see [in fact…] that what is involved is a flagrant violation of religious freedom. That’s why former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, declared, “We’re all Catholics now.” [I nearly stood up an cheered when I heard him say that on air.]
More is at stake here than the mission of all churches, including the Catholic Church, to provide social services like health care and education to everyone regardless of creed, and to do so without compromising their beliefs. [As I said at the top, this is more about defending the ability of Catholic institutions to help the poor.] At the deepest level, we are witnessing an attack on the institutions of civil society that are essential to limited government and are important buffers between the citizen and the all-powerful state. [The Obama Administration trying to aggregate all power and control over all the services these institutions to the federal government? But this attack on the 1st Amendment goes deeper. Read on.]
If religious providers of education, health care and social services are closed down or forced to become tools of administration policy, the government consolidates a monopoly over those essential services. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, put it, we are witnessing an effort to reduce religion to a private activity. “Never before,” he said, “have we faced this kind of challenge to our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith.” [Remember that Pres. Obama and his surrogates are trying to shift “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship”.]
With this week’s lawsuits, the bishops join a growing army of other plaintiffs around the country, Catholic and non-Catholic, who are asking the courts to repel an unprecedented governmental assault on the ability of religious persons and groups to practice their religion without being forced to violate their deepest moral convictions. [Religious convictions are logically prior to helping the poor.]
[Just as my right to free expression by swinging my fist around ends at the tip of your nose, so too…] Religious freedom is subject to necessary limitations in the interests of public health and safety. The HHS regulations do not fall into that category. The world has gotten along fine without this mandate—the services in question are widely and cheaply available, and most employers will provide coverage for them.
But if the regulations are not reversed, they threaten to demote religious liberty from its prominent place among this country’s most cherished freedoms. [Our first freedoms.] That is why Cardinal Dolan told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on April 8: “We didn’t ask for this fight, but we won’t back away from it.”
Ms. Glendon is professor at Harvard Law School.