JANUARY 25, 2012)

How about some respect for Catholics and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease?


Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Religious freedom is the lifeblood of the American people, the cornerstone of 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 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’s 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 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 services will be forced to pay for them as

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

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 health-care 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.
Timothy Dolan is archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops



  1. Losbrisenos says:

    Try to open your mind and heart. This isn’t about denial.  The theorectical Jehovah’s Witness employer shouldn’t be required to pay for (enable) a moral wrong. But the employee who doesn’t share this view is free to get treatment elsewhere. I hope that your statement is from faulty reasoning, and not from a deliberate confusing of the issue.
    A corrolary: suppose in some future, at the behest of big agriculture, the government mandated that all restaurants provide meat dishes to their patrons. Some owners of vegetarian establishments would surely object- especially those who are vegetarian on moral grounds. Would the issue be freedom to eat meat? Or freedom to follow one’s conscience?

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