Saturday, January 21, 2012

U.S. Government vs. Religious Freedom

The cereal at breakfast didn't go down too well this morning.  In the middle of my first bite of Honey Nut Cheerios, I scanned the front page of the Washington Post and saw the headline, "Birth Control Rule Covers Church Affiliates".  The first few lines gave me stomach pains immediately:  "Most church-affiliated organizations will be required to offer their workers coverage of birth control as part of their health plans, the Obama administration announced Friday, but they can get more time than other employers to comply."

I realized immediately what people have been saying for three years: our religious freedom is under attack. Yes, the issue of contraception is important.  Yes, this is especially bothersome (and ironic) on the eve of the March for Life.  Yes, this is very meaningful to me as a chaplain because I just had a fruitful night last Tuesday with our students talking about life issues, including contraception.  Yes, I was hoping to just focus on life issues this weekend in my homilies (Sunday night and Monday).  But, with this being the latest in a series of actions by our government, it points to a much bigger issue that should scare any Catholic, person of faith, or really any American who believes in the constitutional values on which our country was founded: our religious freedom is under attack.

The only good news I've heard or read all day with this is the last line of the Catholic New Agency article which is a quote from the Pope.  He basically says that young people are our hope in this battle.  This means you, GW Catholics!

(more excerpts from the Post)
The decision came as a bitter disappointment to organizations ranging from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the National Association of Evangelicals, which had lobbied hard for a broad exemption for employers that oppose birth control on religious grounds.

“This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights,” said Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, head of a system of 13 Catholic hospitals in Indiana and Illinois.

The rule, which was first announced last summer and which has drawn more than 200,000 comments, requires private insurance not merely to include birth control, but to do so without out-of-pocket charges. It will take effect beginning Aug. 1, as plans renew.

From the beginning, the rule exempted employers such as churches whose primary purpose is to inculcate religious beliefs and that mainly employ and serve individuals who share those beliefs. Religious advocates argued that this definition was too narrow, excluding a wide range of church-affiliated universities, hospitals and schools.

On Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius unveiled a small change: Religious organizations will be allowed an extra year to comply with the requirement. But the rule itself and the types of employers covered by it will remain unchanged, she said.

The delay was no consolation to Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” he said. “The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand.”

(from yesterday's Catholic News Service)

Coming at the start of an election year, Pope Benedict's words were clearly relevant to American politics, a connection he made explicit by mentioning threats to "that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion."

The pope said that many of the visiting bishops had told him of "concerted efforts" against the "right of conscientious objection ... to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices" -- an apparent reference to proposals by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, opposed by the U.S. bishops, that all private health insurance plans cover surgical sterilization procedures and artificial birth control.

In response to such threats, Pope Benedict said, the church requires an "engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity" with the courage and critical skills to articulate the "Christian vision of man and society." He said that the education of Catholic laypeople is essential to the "new evangelization," an initiative that he has made a priority of his pontificate.

Touching on one of most controversial areas of church-state relations in recent years, the pope spoke of Catholic politicians' "personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral issues of our time," which he identified as "respect for God's gift of life, the protection of human dignity and the promotion of authentic human rights."

The pope was not specific about the bishops' relationship with such politicians, merely encouraging the bishops to "maintain contacts" with them and "help them understand" their duty to promote Catholic values.

While acknowledging the "genuine difficulties" facing the church in the United States, the pope concluded on a hopeful note, pointing to a growing appreciation for "Judeo-Christian" civic values, and a "new generation of Catholics," who he said will play a "decisive role in renewing the Church's presence and witness in American society."


Anonymous said...

There is a difference between offering a health care plan that covers birth control and the employees actually using it. There are many things that our personal health insurance providers cover that we will likely never have to use. Just because the health plan covers birth control does not mean the employers endorse it or that the employees have to use it. If the employees of the church agree with its view on that issue, is it not their personal conscience that allows them to decide whether to use it or not? Are individuals not responsible for their own choices?

I understand the church's views on the issue, but it is undeniable that contraception is extremely important and it is vital that health plans cover it in the cases where it is necessary.

My question is how exactly does this attack religious freedom? I do not believe morality could or should be legislated. It should be a personal standard one holds oneself to and something that is encouraged & taught in the community, such as in churches, and if the church employees are strong followers of the church's doctrine on this issue, it shouldn't be a problem. Questioning their ability to do so is tantamount to questioning the strength of their religious devotion.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why it's considering so important for there to be no co-pay on birth control-- if a co-pay is seen an unfair burden (as it so often is), wouldn't it be more worthwhile to outlaw co-pays on all drugs, not just ones that deal with non-life threatening situations such as birth control? It's hard not to see it as a way the administration wants to stick it to religious groups, rather than a true effort to "improve" women's health.

Liesl said...

Anon, I would love to see a defense of how it is "undeniable that contraception is extremely important".

Contraception leads to abortion, and sometimes even causes abortions. Contraception has further objectified women, caused massive increases in the divorce rate and adultery, and even opens up the door to rationalizing rape,
, and a breakdown of the definition of marriage. (I linked to a friend's blog, but she does a lot of research, and provides links.) Are these things what we have decided as a society to deem "extremely important"? Pope Paul VI predicted many of these happening because of the widespread use of contraception back in 1968 in Humanae Vitae.

Anonymous said...

It is also important to remember that contraceptives have little, if anything, to do with "health care."

To me, this decision is a political ploy, a stunt, if you will, for our current president to try to play it both ways with Americans, in an election year. Don't be fooled.

Also, it is likely that church affiliated organizations will drop this coverage, rather than enact it, and that will incur fees payable to the government. Again, don't be fooled.

Anonymous said...

4:07 Anon asked how this rule attacks religious freedom.

I don't know how to address that directly, but as I thought about it, it struck me that it is a type of religious persecution - not the lion in a coliseum type - but similar in that there is no way out.

If church affiliated organizations comply, they violate their conscience. If church affiliated organizations do not comply, they pay a fine. The one year waiver is meaningless. It only prolongs the obvious; that a choice must be made, neither of which is acceptable.

If it is not religious persecution, then at the very least it is religious discrimination.