USA Today’s “Faith and Reason” blog:
When it comes to mandatory contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the nation’s Catholic bishops won’t budge an inch.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, initially said he would study President Obama’s newest variation of the requirement.
That didn’t last long. Now, it’s no sale unless the mandate is lifted from any person of faith who objects to facilitating contraception coverage for employees…
Yours truly is not one who thinks the Obama administration is at “war” with religion. This writer does not assume “bad faith” on the administration’s part. Yet in this matter it has genuinely ventured down a path no administration has before.
Backing the core reason why the Obama administration claims it has done so is beside the point. It is easy to justify measures one likes. In turn, all of us must support, through our taxes, general state measures and policies we dislike and may even consider abhorrent: for example, the Catholic Church is not a fan of the U.S. having nearly 10,000 (taxpayer-funded) nuclear weapons either.
Undeniably health concerns are vital. Yet so of course is national defense. But the importance of defending the U.S. does not give the Defense Department carte blanche to demand Church lands must house missile silos.
There is the “Free Exercise” distinction. A conscientious objector does not have to shoulder a rifle himself. But in this mandate, the administration is decreeing there can be no conscientious objectors. That being so, where is conscience next to be rescinded for health concerns? In demanding Catholic hospitals perform abortions? Or for end of life issues, in demanding Catholic hospitals euthanize? Or to fight crime, in requiring Catholic priests execute death row prisoners?
Thus the reason for the uproar is in the mandate itself. It is one thing for a politician — even a Catholic one — to support legal contraceptives being available. However, it is moving into a decidedly murkier “free exercise” realm for that politician to force the Catholic Church actually to pay for the contraceptives.
And in “Caesar” demanding the Church contract insurance coverages to which it is doctrinally opposed, and which must be paid for at least in part out of church funds raised through Mass collections, the HHS mandate is doing just that. That is its “Free Exercise” encroachment. Ironically an NHS-style single-payer system funded not by the faithful’s givings, but through taxes a church does not pay as an exempt charity, would not present the same thorny church-state conscience dilemma.
James Madison wrote that religious liberty requires defining government’s role with the utmost precision the law, and language, allows. We know there are no absolutes in this world; but it is undeniable that religion gets first mention in the Bill of Rights as a singular realm in which legislative intrusion is explicitly proscribed — even before speech. As we see once again, given its uniquely personal and sensitive nature, and the Founders’ essential belief that political liberty went hand in hand with religious freedom, there is a very good reason for that.