Mary Ann Glendon explains why Bishops and Catholic institutions are suing the Federal Government

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.


[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.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. I see that Ms Glendon is a professor at Harvard Law School. Didn’t the President attend Harvard Law School?

  2. Jack Hughes says:

    I don’t know her personally but I want to buy Professor Glendon a large bottle of her favourite poison (JUST alcohold folks NOT cyanide) for having the guts to call out the insanity proposed by the POTUS (pretender of the United States) and his shabby band of moronic, mediocre, midgets who were most certianly given degrees before they could walk and talk .

    Alas I do not have her mailing address so I will instead help her by praying Compline for her soul using the NEW Roman Breviery that arrived today from Baronius Press.

  3. Facta Non Verba says:

    Excellent op-ed! Well explained and to the point! I would love to see something like this printed in the local paper (Minneapolis Star Tribune), but I can reasonably predict that it will not happen. We will only get a biased report by those who don’t understand, or even worse, by those who intentionally wish to mislead.

  4. Margaret says:

    Excellent letter, and excellent commentary, Fr. Z. I just used the Share button, by the way… :)

  5. Didn’t Queen Elizabeth I of England also say, in effect, that she didn’t care what Catholics believed in private, so long as they were Protestants in public? How did that policy turn out?

  6. Weetabix says:

    I think the Church and Catholic institutions in general would be better off if they just stopped taking all government funds.

  7. Jael says:

    Weetabix: The point is, this law applies to institutions and businesses whether or NOT they take government funds. If I start a business, under this law I have to supply my workers with contraception.

  8. Kathleen10 says:

    Hurrah. It’s great to read this, after just finishing a ridiculous article from the New York Times, I don’t know the writer, a nameless minion for Obama.

    Besides the floodgates of hate that have apparently been opened against the Catholic church and Her members, what seems really striking to me is the complete lack of charity of the Left. This is related to the hate they spew, but it seems lost on any of them that the members of the Church are suffering as well. Where is charity in their comments? It’s just gone. The article I just read is relentlessly critical, and speaks of Kathleen Sebellius as a “silver haired graduate” of Notre Dame, and other such pap. Naturally, the nuns recently called out are also a pebble in the shoe of these liberals. They can’t stand it! For such moral degenerates as all of our Bishops are (to the eyes of the Left) to dare take a stand on issues within the Church related to faith and morals, well, it’s just too much apparently. Most of these people haven’t stepped inside a church since their marriage or baptism, but you would think they do by the way they speak. One approving commenter after the article writes that when Robert Kennedy was shot, the nuns “ordered” the children to pray for him, and that when he died, she was traumatized, felt responsible, and carried a serious grudge against the nuns ever since! I mean, if ONLY these haters would just leave the church and as Doug Heffernan so aptly puts it, “shuttie”. If only! But no, they claim “insider” status when they clearly aren’t. My biggest worry in this are the Bishops. They can’t cave.
    Anyway my point was, the sheep are about as far away from the goats, as is possible. There is no middle ground. You are either on one side, or another, same as for same-sex marriage.
    Without any wish to be “hyperbolic”, it seems as if we are approaching a serious breach in American politics and life, between one camp and another. What is the answer to this. Besides the obvious, the election in November, we need a president who is willing to enforce the federal law on the Defense of Marriage Act. And of course, this HHS debate must be won and religious tyranny defeated. Every age has it’s challenges, and boy, so do we. It is not what I would have picked, but isn’t it a great time to be an active Catholic? We will perhaps have some little thing to show when we stand before the Lord. We tried!

  9. Supertradmum says:

    Superb and thanks for sharing this Father Z. She has said eloquently and logically what we all need to hear and share. If more Catholics came out with such arguments so cogently, we could win the battle. How about some bishops taking notes from her?

  10. cwalshb says:

    I agree it’s not only about contraception, but, but, do we really have to push that idea aside like it’s some crazy belief we’re embarrassed of instead of the natural law and the root of the culture of death?

  11. ContraMundum says:



  12. pm125 says:


    ‘ 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.]

    ‘ But if the regulations are not reversed, they threaten to demote religious liberty from its prominent place among this country’s most cherished freedoms. ‘

    Objectivity – sadly so rare that it sounds angelic these days. What happened to the study of journalism?

  13. Andrew says:

    The comments following the said WS op-ed are also encouraging: not the usual rubbish. Attempts by some to be negative are skillfully cleared by others.

  14. JARay says:

    An excellent summary of the situation by someone who really knows what she is talking about.
    I see that Jack Hughes is going to offer Compline for her using his newly arrived Breviary from Baronius Press. I too received this excellent publication and I also see that all copies have been sold out. I’m trying to get round to the proper use of it….and, yes, I know I’ve just given a plug for Baronius Press but they deserve one.

  15. jaymcnally says:

    All of this has been predicted, going back many decades (even a century ago) by thoughtful people who try to understand, as Lord Acton put it, “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
    Atheistic governments have not been friendly to Catholicism – going back to Roman times– yet America’s bishops have championed an ever-expanding welfare and police state for at least 90 years. In one of the early press releases in which they complained about the HHS mandate they boasted that they have been promoting “universal health care” since 1919! And they are still at it as they denounce Paul Ryan.

    Problem is, there’s no evidence Cardinal Dolan and the rest of the bishops have connected the dots. Like pathetic alcoholics going to court for drunk driving, they are convinced the problem is not their addiction (to government), but stupid laws and mean policemen.

    Persecution against Christians is only going to get worse. It’s fitting that the film “For Greater Glory”, which is about how big government treats Catholics, is being released now.

  16. Pingback: Convert Journal – Obama’s war on religion (update #7)

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