Wednesday, February 08, 2012

"An act against one church is treated as an act against all." - JFK

Two GW Catholics, junior Michael Russo and freshman Lisa Campbell, have written an excellent op-ed piece in the GW Patriot about the HHS mandate and religious liberty which is below.   

Also, our student leaders have organized a Call to Action night at the Newman Center and have invited many GW groups to participate: "Tonight (2/8) at 8:30 in the basement of Newman we will be making phone calls, sending emails, and recruiting petition signers through social media. This is one of the most important tasks we have been given this year. PLEASE make a goal to bring one or two non-Catholic friends to this if you can!"

An amazing and inspiring response to our bishops' call to action, all of you!!

When the time came to enshrine the basic rights of the American people, the first right, which the Founders enumerated, protected freedom of religion. They recognized that one of the most fundamental rights a person has is to believe whatever they wish in the realm of faith and to be able to freely practice it. The Founders declared this basic freedom of our religion, or lack of religion, in the same Amendment as the freedom of speech and assembly since, unlike other nations, American citizens are entitled to express and exercise their religion in public, not just in the private realm. In 1789, President Washington wrote, "Every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshiping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience." Washington’s words have long described the stance of the American government towards its citizens of faith; that is until now.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) gave authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to determine what is considered preventive care and, therefore, what is mandatory for health insurance providers and employers to cover. Using this authority, HHS announced that all insurance plans must cover contraception, abortifacients (abortion-inducing drugs), and sterilizations. The mandate provides only a limited exemption for religious institutions, including charities and hospitals. Its exemption applies only to those who hire persons of their own faith and serve persons of their own faith, a condition that applies to almost no religion with a tenant of helping those in need. HHS has argued that this is not a violation of the Constitution since it provides an exemption clause. However, this limited clause will pose a very serious threat to the basic existence of almost all hospitals, schools, charities, and other faith-run groups that have a stance on contraception, sterilizations, and abortifacients.

The mandate has put faith-based employers in a Catch-22. If they wish to continue their current operations without violating their fundamental beliefs on life issues, they will be left with only 3 options: 1) stop providing their employees with insurance and face the massive fines put in place by the same healthcare act, 2) attempt to comply with the mandate’s narrow exemption but be forced to lay off large numbers of employees and, in the case of charities, hospitals, and churches, turn many of the neediest people away, or 3) select the once unthinkable option of simply closing down to avoid breaching their consciences.

This will be the first time in the history of the United States that the federal government will force the closure of institutions for their religion-based moral beliefs. If the final and most drastic measure of closing is pursued, it would mean, in the case of the Catholic Church alone, the closure of over 6,000 elementary and secondary schools, over 240 universities, and over 600 hospitals spread over all 50 states. That would potentially leave millions of American citizens without services essential to their communities and, in many cases, their lives. Even if most institutions choose not to close and follow another path, they will eventually be forced to do so.

For example, should they choose not to provide their employees with insurance, they will face the massive fines established under the PPACA, which were designed specifically to force employers into providing insurance. The fine stands at $2,000 per employee per day; for an organization like Catholic Charities USA, which has 75,000 employees and is one of the largest charities in the world, such fines would be disastrous.

They would be forced to close or attempt to comply with the exemption. To comply with the exemption, they would need to dismiss large parts of their staffs (many Catholic Organizations employ large amounts of Protestants) and turn away any non-Catholics who come to them for aid. The only other alternative that would allow them to maintain their religion is closing down. Either way, thousands or potentially millions could be affected with loss of jobs, loss of vital services, or even loss of life.

Contraception and other life, reproductive, or sexuality issues are not the focus of the grave concern and outrage regarding the HHS mandate. The issue at hand is the basic natural and Constitutional right of every American Citizen and, subsequently, private institutions to hold and adhere to their religion. The mandate on contraception is a violation of the First Amendment. The government has never before forced religious or non-religious institutions to abandon any key tenant of their beliefs, and that is exactly what HHS and the Administration are expecting countless Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish organizations to do.

Regardless of one’s opinion on contraception, abortion, or any other issue in the life and sexuality debate, a consensus needs to be that the First Amendment gives all religions and citizens the right to hold and practice their beliefs within their own congregations and institutions. If the concern is over employees not having access to contraceptives and other such medical coverage they should not have considered working for an institution that has a long held, even ancient, stance to the contrary. As a spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said, "When you go to a Jewish deli, you are not expecting pork chops."

The long standing political divide on PPACA, or Obamacare, is only relevant to this uproar by Catholic and other religious organizations since it is what gave HHS the power to issue these mandates. The law gives neither HHS nor the Administration as a whole the power to tear the First Amendment rights of the American people to shreds. This could mark one of the most important moments in the history of religious liberty. The Catholic Church will never violate its own core belief on any issue, and if left with no option, the Catholic Bishops and affected organizations have stated they will close.

This assault on one of the most core tenants of the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Jewish faiths must not be allowed to stand. Freedom of religion cannot exist if the government, whether it is the Legislative or Executive branches, can determine on its own when they can dictate beliefs. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently sued a Lutheran Church in an attempt to overturn the long accepted concept of ministerial exemption, whereby churches and religions can determine their own qualifications for their ministers or other religious. The Supreme Court needed to take but one look at this case before striking it down 9-0. The court stated that the government does not have the ability to micro-manage whom religions accept as their ministers since it is an essential part of their faith. To connect this case with the HHS mandate is fair since it shows that the government cannot tell people of religion what to believe or to violate their beliefs. This mandate is an attack on people of religion and, as such, on all Americans who hold their Bill of Rights dear. The mandate needs to be repealed immediately, or the long-term freedom of all Americans of any faith-tradition is at stake, since as President Kennedy said, “an act against one church is treated as an act against all."

Michael Russo, President
Lisa Campbell, Community Service Director
Newman Catholic Student Center

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