Archive for the ‘Contraception’ Category

The Administration’s Ideological Obsession

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

How can you diagnose when somebody is suffering from ideological obsession?

Consider the case of the Affordable Care Act.  This law was supposed to provide for universal health insurance for all Americans.  Yet the law is filled with exemptions, and the Administration has granted even more exceptions and exemptions as the implementation date for the law approached on New Year’s Day.

Here are just a few of the exemptions that were incorporated in the law itself:  people who can’t afford coverage, even with a subsidy; people with income levels too low to require filing a federal tax return; members of certain Indian tribes; people who can claim a hardship; people who will have a short gap in their coverage;  members of certain religious groups that conscientiously oppose insurance benefit programs (e.g., the Amish); members of a “health care sharing ministry”; people in prison; and people who are not lawfully in the United States.

In the last few months, with all the mess associated with the new health exchange websites, and all the other chaos associated with the law, the Administration has granted new exemptions:  people whose plans were cancelled can get a plan that is not compliant with the ACA; people who weren’t able to comply because of difficulties in signing up for a new plan won’t be penalized; and large businesses with over 50 employees will not be fined for failing to provide any health insurance.

Now, many of these exemptions make perfect sense, and reflect a healthy degree of flexibility in the implementation of a very complex law.

So, what does this have to do with ideology?  Well, despite all those other exemptions, waivers and extensions, one group has not been able to obtain an exemption, despite repeatedly asking for it, petitioning for it, and finally suing for it — religious organizations that have a moral objection to facilitating contraception, sterilization, and abortion, as would be required under the so-called HHS Mandate.

For these groups, there is no flexibility at all.  There is instead an adamant insistence that they will have to cooperate, regardless of their deeply-held religious beliefs.  The Amish get out of the law entirely, but when it comes to Catholic dioceses, schools and charities agencies, the government offers nothing except artificial and unsatisfactory “accommodations”.

Consider the absurdity of the government’s position.  As pointed out by Archbishop Kurtz, the president of the U.S. Bishops, under the Administration’s current policies, large businesses will be able to completely eliminate any health insurance for their employees, with no fine at all, but religious organizations that refuse to cooperate with moral evil will be subject to crippling fines of $100 per day per employee.  The government won’t even grant temporary respite while legal challenges are working their way through the courts.  They can’t even bring themselves to give a break to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who spend their entire lives caring for needy elderly people.

Why is this?  It’s not that hard to understand.  The current Administration is entirely beholden to an ideology of sexual liberationism that considers contraception, sterilization and abortion to be “sacred ground”.  They consider this ideology to be so central to life that they will brook no opposition, and will do whatever it takes to bring to heel anyone who opposes them.

That is an ideological obsession.  It is dangerous to the souls of those who suffer from it, and it is dangerous to any society in which they wield power.

Designed to Fail

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Once again, our clueless Newspaper of Record has displayed how people become impervious to reason and common sense, in the service of the Cult of Contraception.

In an advocacy piece published last week (under the guise of a health news report, of course), the Times gushed over the fantabulousness of the New York City schools policy to make so-called “emergency contraception” available to girls as young as 13 years old, without explicit parental consent.

Most of the piece is not worth reading — you could pretty much paste it together from Planned Parenthood press releases and propaganda.  We can leave aside for a moment the question of why the City schools are willingly acting as accessories after the fact of a crime, since sex with a child under 14 is still illegal in New York, and many other young girls are criminally sexually exploited by older men.  And we can also pass over the obvious medical malpractice of dispensing powerful medicines that may cause early abortions and many other side effects, after only the most cursory medical examinations, without consulting those who know most and best about the patient’s medical history.

The only part of the article worth reading is buried deep beneath the digital fold, far into the second page, accessible only to those with strong hearts.  I refer to this passage:

Most of the scientific evidence, however, suggests that making the morning-after pill available does not increase sexual activity, according to a review of studies by James Trussell, a professor of economics at Princeton, and Dr. Elizabeth G. Raymond, senior medical associate with Gynuity Health Projects, a research organization that supports access to contraception and abortion.

But the pill also does not reduce pregnancy rates, they concluded, mainly because women who take it will often have unprotected sex a short while later and not take the pill.

So, the scientific evidence shows that the distribution of “emergency contraception” is a failure.   And yet the City still proceeds with the experiment — knowing that it will fail.

Of course, that makes no sense to a person of reason and prudence.  But to the ideologues in the City government, and their publicists at the Times, it makes perfect sense, once you understand the real purpose and nature of “emergency contraception” (and, in fact, of any kind of contraception).

“Emergency contraception” is the “gateway drug” to the Culture of Death.

Its failure to reduce pregnancy is not a flaw, it’s part of the design.  Its purpose is to acclimate  young people to the evil lies of the Culture of Death — fertility is a sickness, pregnancy is a disease, and an unborn child is an enemy to be eliminated.  It is also designed to deliver vulnerable young women to the contraception of last resort — the abortion industry.

“Emergency contraception”, and the City policy that promotes it, is made to fail.  And, indeed, it does fail — it fails young people by deluding them about the nature of sexuality and fertility, it fails young women by damaging their hearts and bodies, it fails parents by separating them from their children, and it fails all of us by promoting a culture of sexual license that destroys families and wounds society.  And all the while, the real answers that are readily at hand — virtue, chastity, marriage — will be ignored and derided as doomed to fail, by the same “experts” who promote failure themselves.

If this sad situation follows the typical script, the City will shortly discover that there has not been a reduction in teen pregnancy rates.  Then, to the applause of advocates and the Times, the City will propose the usual solution — even more contraception.

Failure, built on failure, calling for more failure.  All by design.

Yet Another HHS Mandate Fraud

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

The Administration has once again announced yet another attempt to square a circle, and they have once again failed.  And so, we now have new regulations on the HHS mandate — the requirement that employer health insurance policies cover abortifacient drugs, sterilization, and contraception.

The objections of the Church to this violation of our rights are well known, and were asserted yet again by Cardinal Dolan on behalf of the U.S. Bishops.

The Administration and its allies, on the other hand, continue to assert that they have already satisfied all objections, and, in effect that religious people and organizations should just sit down, be quiet, and obey.

Not so fast.  The new regulations — just like the old ones — are a fraud and a violation of fundamental rights.

Consider the alleged “exemption” and “accommodation” for some religious employers.

The “exemption” would certainly grant protection to many religious organizations, but nobody knows how many, or how few.  The key provision in the regulation refers to an obscure part of the Internal Revenue Code that is not exactly written in clear and self-evident prose.  Nobody knows how, in the end, the IRS will interpret and apply that provision.  Does anyone trust them to do so in an even-handed way?

The “accommodation” is even more problematic.  Every religious non-profit that objects to the mandate knows that when they offer their staff health insurance, they will also be providing them the objectionable products and services.  It is true that they won’t have to list the offensive things in their plan booklet, but they know that they’re covered in any event — and that the employer will be paying for them.  As a moral matter, that’s really no different from directly and explicitly providing for the coverage in the insurance plan.

The “accommodation” is basically asking religious non-profits to accept a lie and pretend that it is the truth.

The new regulations offer no help whatsoever to for-profit businesses.  They will be coerced into providing, promoting, and paying for morally offensive things.  Nothing is changed for them in the fundamental injustice of the HHS mandate, and their many lawsuits against the mandate will go forward.

The heart of the matter ultimately doesn’t depend on specifics of these very complex regulations.  We have a situation where the government is forcing people to cooperate in immoral activities, either directly or under a transparent fig leaf of lies.

There is a core of liberty that is inherent in the nature of the human person, into which the government may not intrude without becoming a tyranny.  One such area is the natural right of individuals and institutions to be free from government coercion of their consciences.  One would have thought that this was made clear on July 4, 1776, and that the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials would serve as ample reminders of those principles.

Apparently the lesson has been forgotten in our nation’s capital.

The Times and Fantasy Legal Theories

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

The Times has put forth yet another magisterial editorial denouncing the Church for our failure to get up to date with the Brave New World of contraception.  They seem particularly outraged that people who have a moral objection to contraception — and to being forced to pay for it and promote it — would dare to take their case to court.  This is odd, since the Times usually seems to like it when people bring the courts into constitutional and moral disputes.

Of course, you can’t really expect much sense from the Times’ editorial board, so the item itself isn’t really worth responding to in any detail.  But one point in the article caught my attention, and I wrote a letter to the editor about it.

The point that struck me was their comment about a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.  The court was ruling on a legal challenge to the HHS contraception and abortifacient mandate. The case was brought by Hobby Lobby, a for-profit business run by Christians who object to being forced to promote practices and products against their moral beliefs.  They cited the First Amendment to the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.   This case is similar to 60 other cases brought against the mandate.

In their editorial, the Times quoted a law professor who is a consistent adversary of the Church in the public square:

Marci Hamilton, a professor at Cardozo School of Law and an expert on the Restoration Act, rightly called the 10th Circuit’s interpretation of the law “a fantasy” that badly undermines rules forbidding corporations from discriminating on the basis of religion.

The professor’s comment is more interesting for what she omitted, than for what she said.  Hence my letter to the editor, which follows:

In your July 1 editorial, “The Contraception Battle”, you commented on the recent decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which recognized a private business’ free exercise rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in a challenge to the HHS contraception mandate.  You quoted Prof. Marci Hamilton to say that this decision was based on a “fantasy” legal theory.  Perhaps by “fantasy”, Prof. Hamilton actually meant “a legal theory that has already been accepted in 22 separate lawsuits by federal district and appeals courts around the nation”.  That fact — which is not a fantasy at all — might have been useful for you to mention to your readers, so that they could understand the full picture of what is actually happening in court, when people seek to defend their constitutional rights against government overreaching.  We understand that you disagree with those rulings, but you should at least acknowledge that your opinion has already been rejected by most of the federal courts that have considered these cases.

Yes, that’s correct — what the professor called a “fantasy” is a legal principle that has been found persuasive by at least 22 federal courts so far.  It actually is not that odd a concept — people don’t surrender their constitutional rights because they choose to carry on a business.

You might have expected the Times to give their readers the full context of the story.  Well, actually, I don’t expect it, since I never expect fairness from the Times.

What’s most interesting to me is the ideological blinders that the Times wears on this particular subject.  The Times itself is a for-profit corporation, and they ardently defend their own First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of the press.  Isn’t it strange that in the fantasy legal world of the Times, other organizations aren’t permitted to enjoy their own First Amendment rights — especially when they disagree with the Times?

A Long Train of Abuses

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Many people have expressed concern and disquiet over a recent article in the Times relating to ArchCare, the organization of health care affiliates of the Archdiocese, such as our nursing homes.  These institutions have for many years been paying into the benefits fund of Local 1199, the union that represents their employees.  These benefits funds pay for morally offensive items, such as contraception.

The implication of the article was that this represented some kind of hypocrisy on the part of the Archdiocese, given that we oppose any such mandate to provide coverage for contraception — such as the infamous HHS mandate.

The Archdiocese has responded to these allegations officially, in an effort to allay the disquiet and to correct the record.  Let me add my own, unofficial, personal take.

It’s important that people understand context here, so that they get the real picture.

We have a state law contraception mandate that is binding on all employers who provide prescription coverage, with a very narrow exception for a few religious employers (an extremely tiny exception similar to the one in the original HHS mandate).  Our hospitals and health care agencies would not qualify for the exception, because they serve and employ people without regard to their religious beliefs.  This mandate was challenged up to our Court of Appeals, and we lost.  So that’s a key factor — there’s an element of strict legal coercion involved here.

Second, we are in a very strong union shop state.  This contributes yet another element of legal coercion.  The health care workers union, Local 1199, is the mandatory union for health care workers.  The trade association is the industry’s recognized bargaining agent for the hospitals.  Once they negotiate a contract with Local 1199, that’s the contract for everyone in the industry — even if you weren’t a member of the association, you would still have to sign the standard industry contract.  The union won’t negotiate with you separately. It’s a “take it or leave it” proposition.

As a result, there’s no way to change or opt out of the health coverage — any effort to evade the standard contract would produce massive disruption of our health care institutions (strikes, etc.) and a ruinous and certain-loser legal action before the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices.

So we have two layers of legal coercion that affect us, when it comes to the operation of our facilities, and the provision of benefits to our employees.

There are also some essential facts that affect the analysis of this situation from a moral perspective.  There is an fundamental element of separation between the Archdiocese and the union health plan.  It is not like the HHS mandate, which would have required us to list contraception in our own plan, and to directly promote it to our employees in our human resources materials — these offensive elements would be specifically endorsed by us, explained by us, and counseled by us.   The HHS mandate would literally drag words out of our mouths — and it’s hard to imagine a more offensive violation of our liberty.

The union contract is entirely different — we have nothing to do with the benefits, which are administered completely by the union, it is entirely out of our control, there’s no endorsement, there’s no involvement beyond writing the check to pay for it.

So, morally speaking, it’s an identical situation morally to paying taxes that go to Medicaid contraception and abortion — the remote cooperation with evil is mitigated by the fact that my conduct is involuntary, and I have no involvement in the act itself nor do I facilitate it in any way.

There’s another element here.  There is an argument underlying the Times piece — and we’ve seen it elsewhere as well — that our compliance with these other coercive mandates somehow renders our protest against the HHS mandate void.  I just don’t understand this.  If we are repeatedly subject to unjust actions by the government, how does that prevent us from opposing a new imposition?  At what point of coercion do I lose my basic human right to protest?

Here’s an analogy that I think people should think about.  Go back to your history books, and re-read the Declaration of Independence.  Read the key paragraph, the one that deals with our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  The remainder of that paragraph is an argument that a free people are likely to endure a “long train of abuses and usurpations”, before they finally take action to defend themselves.

I certainly don’t compare this situation to that experienced by our Founders, nor am I saying that we’re justified in taking up arms.  But the fact that we are willing to be long-suffering does not in any way mean that the abuses lose their offensiveness, nor does it mean that we waive our rights.

All it means is that when we do resist, we will be all the more resolute.

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

Monday, March 5th, 2012

There has been a great deal of action on the new federal mandate that all health insurance policies cover contraceptives (including drugs that cause early abortions) and sterilizations.  There is also a great deal of misinformation, political spin, and outright deception going around about what is actually at stake, and what has happened.  Here are a few key points to keep in mind:

The Web of Mandates in the Health Care Law

Remember the background for this situation — it comes from the health care reform law, which is a comprehensive regulation that impacts everyone in the United States.  That law imposes three levels of mandates:  (1) all individuals will be required to have a health insurance policy, or pay a fine to the government; (2) all employers (with a few exceptions for small businesses) will have to provide their employees with an insurance plan or pay a fine to the government; and (3) all insurance companies will have to cover a variety of things, including “preventive services”.  We must understand these legal requirements, if we’re going to understand the significance of this new mandate.

The Contraceptive/Abortion Mandate

Last summer, the Department of Health and Human Services, acting under the authority given to them by the health care reform law, announced regulations to define what had to be covered by health insurance policies under the rubric “preventive services”.  These regulations would require all employers and health insurance policies to cover contraceptives (including drugs that cause early abortions) and sterilizations.  There was an extremely narrow exemption for religious employers, but no exemption for religious individuals or insurance companies with objections.

There was considerable public furor in response, and thousands of people — including the U.S. Bishops and many other religious groups — filed comments with HHS, asking for the rejection of the regulation or the granting of a broader religious exemption.  Nevertheless, on January 20, 2012, HHS announced that they were going to implement those regulations without any modification whatsoever.

There is No “Compromise”

In response to the renewed public furor that followed the issuance of the final regulations, the President announced on February 10 that there would be a “compromise” to address the religious liberty objections of churches and other faith-based institutions.

But here’s the key thing to remember:  no details about this “compromise” have been announced.   The Administration has made clear that they are not open to any further concessions on religious liberty. The original regulations have become law — there is absolutely no substance whatsoever to the “compromise”, beyond promises of something at some undefined time in the future after the next election.  It’s all smoke and mirrors and political spin.

The net result is that there is virtually no way out of this mandate — it is very, very broad, and the “religious liberty” exemption is very, very narrow.  Very few employers — and no individuals or insurance companies — will be able to claim conscientious objector status.  There is no “compromise” in this regulation — nothing.

It’s Not About Banning Contraceptives — It’s About Religious Liberty

Sadly, access to contraceptives, at low or no cost, is virtually universal in the United States.  Nobody is calling for them to be outlawed, and nobody is giving employers the power to ban their employees from buying them.  That’s all media and political spin — it’s an outright lie.  This is not about contraceptives.  If people want to use them, that’s between them and God.

This is about government coercion against churches.  It’s about the fundamental human right to tell the government to “leave us alone” — don’t make us cooperate with practices that we find immoral.  As the U.S. Bishops’ Conference has said:

“Under the mandate, the government forces religious insurers to write policies that violate their beliefs; forces religious employers and schools to sponsor and subsidize coverage that violates their beliefs; and forces religious employees and students to purchase coverage that violates their beliefs.”

That’s contrary to the basic principles of American democracy, and that’s why we’re opposed to it.

What is Being Done to Fight This?

The U.S. Bishops have been very outspoken in opposition to the mandate, and in defense of our religious liberty.  Every bishop in the United States has condemned this mandate.  Leaders of many religious communities have condemned it.  Leaders of other faiths — Orthodox, Protestant, and Jewish — have joined in opposing it.

Just last week, an attempt was made in the U.S. Senate to add an amendment to a spending bill, to provide protection for religious individuals and institutions.  This particular tactic was chosen because the rules of the Senate require a super-majority of 60 votes before a bill can be brought to the floor for a vote — this is a legacy of the old days of filibustering.  But the rules permit an amendment to be approved by a simple majority — 51 votes. It was hoped that this amendment would pass both the House and the Senate, and that the President would not veto a large and important spending bill, just for the sake of this provision. Unfortunately, the Senate did not approve the amendment — it only got 48 votes, just shy of the number needed for passage.

This leaves the Church with several options at this point:

  • Continue pressing Congress for action — There are several bills before Congress that would correct the problems created by this mandate.  Bills like the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012 deserve our support.  We must keep pressing  Congress with emails and letters in support of them (an easy way is to go here).  Unfortunately, our New York Senators and most of the Congressional representatives from the Archdiocese are unlikely to support our position.  But we must keep the pressure on.
  • Going to court to defend our rights — Several lawsuits have been filed already, attacking the mandate, and more will be filed.  The grounds for the cases include the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  The entire health care law is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court, and a decision will be handed down later this year.
  • Educating ourselves and others — This is a very complicated issue, and many people are suffering from political fatigue at this point in the seemingly-perpetual Presidential campaign.  But there is so much dis-information out there that we must redouble our efforts to make sure that people understand what’s really going on here, and what’s at stake.  The U.S. Bishops’ website has many valuable and easy-to-understand resources that we can use in our parishes and communities.
  • Supporting our bishops and standing united with them — The supporters of the mandate are trying to drive a wedge between Catholics and our bishops, and are forming alliances with Catholics who either dissent from Church teaching on contraception and abortion, or who would rather stand with politicians than their shepherds.  Our bishops are being battered in the public square, and the level of anti-Catholic bigotry is simply astounding.  This is a time for all Catholics to rally behind the standard of Christ — and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our bishops.
  • This is just one stage of a long, ongoing battle to defend religious freedom in our nation.  This liberty is under continual attack from our own government.  Our Lord promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church.  We must be fervent in our prayers, and steadfast and vigilant in our defense of the Church, and the rights of individuals to live according to their faith.

    The Sisters of Life Speak Out

    Thursday, February 16th, 2012

    Today, the Sisters of Life issued a statement against the iniquitous HHS mandate that all health insurance plans cover sterilization and contraception (including drugs that cause abortions).  This is an important contribution to the discussion, because it presents a problem with the mandate (and with the health care reform law in general) that has not adequately been considered — the effect on individual religious sisters, brothers and priests.  Here is the statement, with a particularly important passage emphasized by me:

    The Sisters of Life join with the Catholic Bishops of the United States, and leaders of many other religious communities, in strongly objecting to the Department of Health and Human Services rule for “preventative services,” and the “compromise” announced by President Obama regarding religious liberty.  This mandate will gravely violate the individual and collective religious liberties of the Sisters of Life and millions of others by forcing us to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and artificial contraception against our conscience.

    The Sisters of Life is a religious community of consecrated women, founded in 1991 by John Cardinal O’Connor. Ours is a religious community founded in the United States of America by a priest who dearly loved this country, and served as a Rear Admiral and Chief of Chaplains in the United States Navy. We, too, love our country. We are grateful to be a part of its proud history, for the generosity and valor of so many who call this nation home, and for the possibilities that arise from living authentic freedom within a pluralistic society. Yet now we are faced with a government decision that is not only a grave affront to the religious liberty and rights of conscience of every citizen of the United States, but also an offense to each Sister of Life in a particular way. Every professed member of our community takes a special vow “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.”

    In response to a call from God and to the sheer beauty and goodness of the gift of life, each Sister dedicates herself to God that all people might come to know the precious gift of his or her life, and that every human life be protected and received as an unrepeatable icon of the living God. To this end, we defend vulnerable human life in the womb from the moment of conception, supporting and upholding mothers in need through emotional, spiritual and material support during and after their pregnancies.  Because the gift of life is intrinsically linked to love, we also affirm and fully support the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church regarding marriage and sexuality. This includes an understanding that sterilization and contraception are gravely against God’s plan for human life and love, and we believe, in the end, are false promises that undermine the peace and freedom in commitment that are fruits of authentic human love.

    Our special fourth vow, made in a solemn and sacred ceremony and binding on us in conscience and in the laws of the Church, is at the heart of our identity as a religious community, and is a profound expression of the religious and spiritual commitment of each of our Sisters. This new rule pays no heed to our right to live according to our vows.  Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act each of us will be required by law to obtain health insurance, or face fines.  Since this HHS mandate will require every insurer to include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and artificial contraception, we will not be able to obtain any coverage that is free from those “services,” and we will be forced to pay for them directly.  Since we are neither employers, nor employees, of any religious institution, we cannot even take advantage of the “religious exemption” contained in the new regulations or the “compromise.”

    As a result, this mandate would coerce each and every individual Sister of Life to betray her religious vows.  We will be forced to pay for “services” that attack human life and deny the truth and beauty of human sexuality.  This would directly contradict our special religious vow to “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life,” and go against everything we believe in and have devoted our lives to.  To us, it would be comparable to a law requiring a spouse to violate their marriage vows — an unthinkable intrusion upon a sacred promise.

    This mandate is an offensive and dangerous infringement upon the natural and Constitutional rights of American citizens. The only just solution to this infringement of rights is to rescind the HHS rule.  We call upon members of Congress and the Executive Branch to reverse this decision as soon as possible, and we invite our fellow citizens to join with us in prayer and fasting that our Nation may be protected from this great threat against liberty.

    The statement can be found at the Sisters’ website.  While you’re there, check out the wonderful work being done by the Sisters, and consider — what kind of society have we become, where our government would seek to force such women to be unfaithful to their vows? Can any of us think of a more egregious violation of the fundamental human right to religious freedom?

    An Analogy May Help Us Understand

    Thursday, February 16th, 2012

    It continues to mystify me that some people just don’t seem to understand the idea that religious liberty is directly impacted by the HHS mandate that all insurance plans cover contraceptives (including abortion-causing drugs) and sterilization.

    Let me try an analogy.

    The status quo for health insurance prior to the health care law and the HHS mandate was very much like having an all-volunteer army.  In that situation, if you supported the war, you were free to join and fight, to buy and sell war bonds, and to advocate for the war.  If you didn’t support the war, you could just stand aside and let others serve.  You weren’t forced to advocate for the war, tell anyone about where the recruiting stations were, or pay their expenses when they were flying over to the war zone.  Yes, even those who oppose the war have to pay taxes, but the connection between them and the war expense was so remote as to be negligible.

    In fact, if you joined the military but later developed moral scruples about the war, you could apply for a discharge as a conscientious objector.   Indeed, even during times of national emergency, when there is a military draft, ample accommodation is given to conscientious objectors (e.g., the Amish) who cannot serve in conscience.  Everybody understands that involuntarily enlisting those folks in the military is a terrible violation of their religious liberty.  Of course, nobody is ever required to speak in favor of the war or buy war bonds, and nobody would ever suggest that the government could force them to do so.

    Compare this now to the situation with the HHS mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage.

    Prior to the mandate, it was just like the all-volunteer military.  If you were an employer and you wanted to offer coverage for contraceptives, you were free to do so.  If you were an employee who wanted contraceptives, you could either buy them yourself, work for a company whose insurance plan covered it, or obtain a private insurance policy that covered it.  If you were an insurance company that wanted to provide that coverage, you were free to do so.

    But, if you had objections to contraception, you also had lots of freedom to be a conscientious objector. If you were an employer and you didn’t want to offer coverage, you didn’t have to pay for it.  Your employees could just go out and get them on their own.  You didn’t even have to tell your employees anything about contraceptives, where to get them, etc.  If they wanted to know these things, they can look them up online.  If you were an employee who didn’t want anything to do with contraceptives, you could sign up for a policy that didn’t cover them.  And if you were an insurance company that didn’t want to pay for them, you were free not to do so (in most states).  In fact, even in the states that mandated contraceptive coverage, there were ways that employers and insurance companies could avoid it.

    So, prior to the mandate, there was lots of freedom for everybody to act according to their consciences.

    Under the mandate, though, all this freedom is lost.  Employers will not only have to pay for contraceptives, they will have to tell their employees all about them — in other words, money will be pulled directly from their pockets to pay for this stuff, and words will be pulled out of their mouths to promote it.  Individuals will have to obtain this insurance or have to pay a fine to the government (remember the individual mandate), whether they like it or not — so money will be pulled directly from their pockets to pay for this stuff for others.  Insurance companies will also have to offer it — pay for it and promote it.

    There is virtually no way out of this mandate — the mandate is very, very broad, and the “religious liberty” exemption is very, very narrow.  Very few employers — and no individuals or insurance companies — will be able to claim conscientious objector status.

    Think of how this will play out in the real world.

    Imagine you’re a religious sister, working in a home for unwed mothers.  You firmly believe in the sacredness of human life and oppose contraception.  Prior to the mandate, you could obtain health insurance or not, depending on how you and your religious community felt about the economics of the deal.  If you did get coverage, you could shop around and find a policy that reflected your moral objections to contraception, abortion and sterilization.  But now, under the mandate, you have to get an insurance policy or risk paying a fine to the government.

    Surely, you can see the loss of religious freedom.  This sister will have to pay for and promotes practices that are directly against her religious beliefs.

    Now imagine that you’re a Church. Imagine that you self-insure — in other words, you collect money from employees and put it in an account, pay some more yourself into that account, and you use that money to cover the medical expenses of the employees.  Your own staff sets up this arrangement, issues and signs all the checks, tells the employees what services are covered or not, etc.  Your HR department will tell all your employees all about the health care plan, including what is covered.  Your HR department will issue fancy brochures with the name of your church all over it (and probably the signature of your bishop someplace in there), telling them what is covered.

    I hope that you can see how this mandate will impact the freedom of speech and religion here — not only will the church be forced to directly pay for contraceptives, but church officials (including the bishop, ultimately) will be forced to tell employees that he will pay for their birth control pills or sterilization.  That’s a pretty huge impact on the religious liberty of that Church and it’s employees.

    So, we’re basically in the situation of the conscientious objector/pacifist who not only is being forced to serve in the military, he’s being forced to buy and sell war bonds, write pro-war propaganda, and help other soldiers do what he morally objects to.

    Is there any wonder, then, that the Catholic and Orthodox bishops, leaders of many Jewish and Protestant organizations, members of Congress, state officials, and (at last count) over 200 professors, legal experts, pundits and intellectuals, along with millions of the faithful, have raised their voices in outrage over this mandate?

    A Time for Unity

    Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

    The HHS  mandate has now been confirmed and implemented, in the same precise terms as were announced last year.  Under this regime, all individuals will be required to obtain health insurance that will provide free coverage for sterilization, contraception and some abortion-causing drugs.  The exemption for religious employers continues to be extremely limited, and all we have is the President’s promise that he will provide something more expansive at some undefined point in the future.

    So, where do we go from here?

    It’s very important that we not allow this issue to be understood solely in terms of election year partisan politics.  That’s unavoidable, of course — it is an election year, and it is already an issue in the campaign.  But for us, this is an issue that far transcends the current political climate.  This is an existential question for Catholics.  What does it mean to be a Catholic in America at this point in time?  What are we to do when our government enacts laws that we cannot, in conscience, obey?  How do I remain a good, law-abiding citizen, while also preserving my soul?

    We have to recognize that we have reached a critical point of decision, both as a Church and as individual Catholics.  The political forces out there — the Administration and their opponents, along with all the pundits and spin-doctors — are seeking to divide us into opposing camps, in order to win votes or to advance policy goals.  Our bishops are trying to keep us united in the Body of Christ.

    Listen for a second to what Cardinal George said the other day, during his periodic (ad limina) visit to the Holy Father — an event that enhances the universal unity of the Church.  He said (the emphasis is added by me):

    Even in the midst of this strengthened unity, news of attempts to weaken the unity between the bishops and the faithful have been reported.  This is the first time in the history of the United States that a presidential administration has purposely tried to interfere in the internal working of the Catholic Church, playing one group off against another for political gain.  What isn’t always understood is that the Bishops of the Church make no attempt to speak for all Catholics; they never have.  The Bishops speak for the Catholic and apostolic faith, and those who hold that faith gather around them.  Others disperse. 

    Just so.  Unity with our bishops has always been the hallmark of the Church.  As St. Ignatius of Antioch said in the early second century, “Wherever the bishop is, there let the people be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

    Our bishops are calling us to rally around them, behind the standard of Christ.  It is sad that some people will disperse, and choose to follow a different standard — they will decide instead to accommodate themselves to the spirit of the age, with the Administration’s contraceptive anti-life ideology, or with various political forces.  Just as it was in Gethsemane, so also it is today.  Some will remain faithful, others will not.  Clearly, we need to conduct a prayer campaign to foster unity in the Church and a greater respect for human life (like this one, or this one, for instance).

    All this is not to say, however, that we are to stand by and disengage from the public policy struggle.  Although it appears that the Administration is absolutely intransigent on this issue, there are still two other branches of government.  Court cases have already been filed, and more will follow, to challenge this violation of our religious freedom.  We can’t leave things to the courts, though — we need to work together and redouble our efforts to influence Congress to pass legislation to protect the right of conscience.  Bills like the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012 deserve our support.  We should all be flooding Congress with emails and letters in support of them (an easy way is to go here).

    As laypeople, we also need to remember that this is an election year, and that every member of the House of Representatives, one-third of the Senators, and the next President will all be elected in November.  This issue, as much as any in our lifetimes, should serve to remind us of our duty as Catholic voters.

    Elections matter.

    A Strange Notion of “Compromise”

    Thursday, February 9th, 2012

    I’ve been following politics my whole life.  I understand the politicians live in a different world than the rest of us.  But is still surprises me when they work from a different dictionary.

    We’re talking now about the Administration and their mandate that all employers, including Catholic institutions, will be forced to offer their employees health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception — free of charge.

    Having inadvertently dragged the Church into electoral year politics, the Administration has now started talking about “compromise” to take some of the heat off.  To most normal people, the word “compromise” means that people sit down, talk to each other as equals, and try to work out something that will respect each other’s beliefs and values.  An online dictionary defines it as “a settlement of differences by mutual concessions”.

    But the Administration seems to think that the word means “surrender your values, be quiet, and do what we tell you”.

    We’ve seen some of these “compromise” laws in other states, and they don’t resemble anything a normal person would consider to be a genuine “settlement of differences by mutual concessions”.  All of them run roughshod over religious liberty, and merely dress up the morally offensive mandate in slightly different clothing, in hopes that people won’t recognize it.  Here’s why:

  • The government cannot be in the business of defining what is a church and what is not.  The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment specifically forbids the government from picking its favorite churches and rewarding them, while penalizing those churches that are in official disfavor.  Yet all of these “compromise” laws would give the government the sole authority to determine who is a “religious employer” and who is not — and impose mandates on the unfavored, with potentials for onerous fines for those who don’t conform.
  • The government has no business investigating religious organizations or the religious beliefs of workers or clients.  In order to enforce these “compromise” laws, the government will have to poke around in the internal operations of churches, asking questions about their “primary purpose”, and even asking about the religious beliefs  of employees or clients.  It’s hard to imagine a more offensive intrusion on religious liberty.
  • The government cannot force people to say and do things that violate their religious and moral beliefs.  One of the “compromise” laws being talked about (Hawaii’s) requires religious employers to provide “written information describing how an enrollee may directly access contraceptive services” — in other words, it requires them to give people a direct referral to the local Planned Parenthood clinic.  Essentially, the government will be forcing words out of our mouths — words we find deeply offensive.
  • We’ve been down this road before.  We know the playbook.   Now that the Administration is facing some political heat, they’ve started talking about “compromise” — without being open to conceding anything real.  Next, we’ll see the release of polls that purport to show that the bishops are “out of touch” with Catholics — as if our constitutional rights are disposable, based on the shifting whims of public opinion.  Dissenting Catholics will be trotted out, to talk about their disagreements with Church teaching.  Then, there will be “gotcha” moments where the advocates will lead the media to agencies that are already complying with similar mandates under protest, and imply that we don’t really mean what we say.  The bishops and their supporters will be labeled “heartless” and “anti-woman”, and will be on the receiving end of protests and heart-rending “human interest” stories.  It will be unpleasant and personal, with sharp elbows thrown in the corners — that’s the way that ideological politics is played by the devotees of the Culture of Death.

    And, they won’t stop with contraceptives and sterilizations.  Forcing insurance plans to cover surgical abortion is clearly next — a bill to that effect is moving forward in Washington State, and one has been introduced in the New York Legislature.  And once they’re finished with gutting our religious liberty, they’ll move on to someone else’s freedoms.

    The best solution to this problem is to eliminate this awful mandate.  There is no compelling need to provide sterilization and hormonal contraceptives, free of charge to users, while all the rest of us — including those of us who consider those services to be dangerous and immoral — pick up the tab in higher insurance premiums.

    There is no compelling reason — outside of anti-life ideology — to throw out the First Amendment, all in the name of a phony “compromise”.