Archive for the ‘Religious Liberty’ Category

The HHS Mandate — Where We Stand, In Plain Language

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

The HHS Mandate continues to make news, so I thought it would be worthwhile to give a quick, plain-language overview of where things stand, and what’s at stake.

What is the “HHS Mandate”?

The “HHS mandate” comes from a provision in the “Affordable Care Act” (the “ACA”, which is typically being called “Obamacare”) that requires all employers who offer health insurance to include coverage for “preventive services”.   The term “preventive services” has been defined by the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) to include contraceptive drugs and devices (including “emergency contraception”, which causes early abortions) and sterilization operations.

The mandate went into effect as of January 1.  As of that day, religious non-profits were faced with a terrible dilemma — sacrifice their religious beliefs and obey, or face the consequences of non-compliance.

What’s at stake if organizations don’t comply?

If an employer’s health insurance plan does not provide the coverage required by the HHS Mandate, they are subject to a fine of $100 per day per employee.  An employer with 100 employees would be fined $10,000 every day, or $3.6 million per year.

There are thousands of religious non-profits in this situation.   Take one small case — the Little Sisters of the Poor (whose case is much in the news these days), who employ hundreds of people at their thirty nursing homes.  They could face fines of over $50 million per year for non-compliance.  Obviously, that would put them and their nursing homes out of business.

When you look at the even bigger picture, the numbers become staggering.  Catholic Charities reports that their affiliated agencies have over 70,000 employees nationwide.  If all of those agencies were non-compliant, they would risk a total of over $2.5 billion in fines every year.

Isn’t there an exemption for religious employers?

There are many exemptions from the entire ACA.  For example, members of religions that oppose insurance benefit programs (e.g., the Amish) do not have to comply with any part of the law.  Over the past few months, the Administration has granted new exemptions, waivers, and delays, due to the mess associated with the new health exchange websites, and all the other chaos involved in implementing such a complicated new law.  So there are lots of people who don’t have to comply with all or part of the ACA.

As for the HHS Mandate itself, the Administration did give a very narrow exemption from the HHS Mandate for churches.  There is an “accommodation” for some religious non-profit organizations (e.g., Catholic Charities, Catholic hospitals).  There is no exemption for for-profit companies.

But there’s an important catch involved in the “accommodation” for religious non-profits.  They can only qualify if  they file a form that directs their insurance company  to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization.  This is not “just a form”.  Instead, it’s a “permission slip” — it is the key document that triggers insurance coverage for the offensive services.

So, regardless of the Administration’s claim that they have “accommodated” religious non-profits, the reality is that faith-based organizations have to become directly involved in immoral behavior — or risk the ruinous fines outlined above.

What’s going on in court?

There are dozens of lawsuits across the country challenging the HHS Mandate, on the basis of religious liberty.  The cases rely on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and a federal law called the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”.  These cases are all working their way through the federal courts.

A number of for-profit businesses have brought lawsuits against the HHS Mandate on the basis of their religious beliefs.  The Supreme Court has agreed to decide cases brought by two businesses (Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood).  There are a number of thorny legal issues involved in these cases, including whether corporations have religious liberty rights at all.  The issues will be hotly contested, and many people will file briefs on the case, including the US Bishops, who will support the companies’ position.  The Court will decide the cases by June.

Many other cases have been brought by religious organizations, including the Archdiocese.   Twenty of these cases have been decided so far, and nineteen have resulted in victories — the courts have held that the “permission slip” form is a violation of their religious liberties.   The Government is appealing their losses, and the Supreme Court will have the final word.   But no decision is expected for at least a year.

One case that has been in the news was brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor.  They lost in the lower court, but Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor has issued a “stay” — an order that puts the lower court’s decision on hold, so that the Sisters could appeal.  The government has opposed the “stay”, and a decision by the full Supreme Court will determine whether the Sisters will face tens of millions of dollars in fines while they appeal.  But no matter what the Court rules on the “stay”, the Sisters will still have to go back and fight out their case in the lower courts on the merits.

So what can we do?

Of course, the most important thing is to pray for the conversion of heart of the President and his Administration, and for the success of the lawsuits against the mandate.  There are lots of prayer resources at the U.S. Bishops’ website.

We can also take action.  Please contact your Congressional representatives and urge them to support authentic conscience protection, and a full repeal of the mandate.  The quickest way to do that is through the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment’s Action Center.

An Important Victory for Religious Freedom

Monday, December 16th, 2013

An important victory was won today for religious freedom.  In a well-reasoned decision, Judge Brian Cogan of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, issued a permanent injunction barring the enforcement of the HHS Mandate against Catholic agencies in the Archdiocese.

This is not the final stroke of victory against this iniquitous and repressive mandate, as we might hope.  But as Winston Churchill once said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

The key element in Judge Cogan’s finding was his specific rejection of the Administration’s minimalistic approach to religious liberty.  The Administration continues to operate on the view that religion is a private matter. It apparently believes that any time a person or organization steps into the public square in any way, they leave their religious freedom behind, and can be compelled to conform their every action to secularist rules of behavior and thought.

Judge Cogan rejected that view.  He rightly found that the HHS Mandate improperly requires church agencies to perform acts that are directly contrary to our Catholic faith — by forcing them to affirmatively endorse and facilitate access to abortion, contraception and sterilization, under penalty of ruinous fines.  The essential quote from the decision:

[The plaintiffs] have demonstrated that the mandate, despite accommodation, compels them to perform acts that are contrary to their religion… there can be no doubt that the coercive pressure here is substantial…  and the Government has failed to show that the Mandate is the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling governmental interest.

This is a very important point, and one that should be axiomatic to anyone who believes in ordered liberty.  If religious freedom means anything, it means that the government can’t force people to do things that they believe God has forbidden.  For people of faith, there is a hierarchy of authority, and it is unjust for the government to try to arrogate to itself the ultimate authority over people’s consciences.  Coercion on matters of conscience are a gross violation of human rights.

Pope Francis has made this point forcefully in Evangelii Gaudium, saying

“A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism.”  (255)

This fundamental principle underlies Judge Cogan’s well-reasoned decision.  At some point, one hopes that the Administration will awaken, and recall that there are necessary limits on state power, if a nation, and its people, are to be truly free.

A Crossroad for Religious Liberty

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

It is becoming increasingly clear that we are reaching a critical point in America, where fundamental questions of religious liberty will be decided.  Decisions will be made by the courts over the next few months and years that will shape the freedom of religion in our nation.

The Supreme Court has agreed to take two important cases.  Two private employers owned by people who take their Christian faith seriously are challenging the HHS mandate (which requires health insurance plans to cover contraception, including abortion-causing drugs and devices).  The particular legal issues are interesting — the scope of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and whether for-profit businesses have rights under the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  At stake is the ability of religious people to give full expression to their faith, even when they are carrying out commercial activity.

Other key cases are working their way through the courts.  A decision was just handed down by a federal district court in Pennsylvania, protecting the religious freedom of Catholic institutions that reject the HHS mandate.  This case is but one of many others filed by religious organizations seeking to vindicate their right to give witness to the Gospel, free of morally offensive government regulations.

Even more important than these particular cases, though, is the underlying debate over the very nature of religious liberty.

In each of these current court cases, the Administration has taken a very narrow and crabbed position on the scope of religious freedom.  They have essentially said that religious liberty extends to devotional and worship activities, and no further — that it is something exercised on Sunday morning, or in the privacy of our homes, but which must be put aside on Monday morning when people go out to work.  Despite a specific rebuke of this argument by the Supreme Court in 2011 (in the Hosanna Tabor case — see here and here), the Administration continues to try to limit our religious freedom to mere “freedom of worship”.

There is a growing number of people who agree with the Administration — people who consider themselves “liberal” or “progressive”, but who really are radical secularists who see little or no value in religion in the public square, or who pooh-pooh our concerns about religious freedom.  This editorial from the Times is fairly typical of this point of view. I have experienced this attitude many times in public debates — most recently at a debate I participated in at NYU over the re-definition of marriage — where there was an assumption that religious beliefs were disqualified from even being considered as part of the discussion.

This is unacceptable.  Our religious beliefs stem from the very core of our being, and are expressed by every aspect of our lives.  They cannot be confined to a narrow scope of the private sphere.  The Gospel is for every aspect of our lives, and we are on a sacred mission to spread it to all.  All of society benefits from the contribution of religious beliefs to the public debate and to the common good.

We are reaching a critical moment in the debate.  It is timely, then, that we have Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, on the New Evangelization.  In this document, the Holy Father gets right to the heart of the our current debate over religious liberty:

A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism. The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions. In the long run, this would feed resentment rather than tolerance and peace. (255)

Our nation is clearly in danger of moving into a time where religious belief is victimized by this “discrimination and authoritarianism”.   The freedom of all is threatened when the freedom of any is at risk.  We are at a crossroad.

Any Chance for Reasonableness?

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

There’s even more furor and confusion than usual in Washington, as the House, Senate and White House struggle over the passage of budget bills, raising the national debt limit, funding for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and government shut-downs.  But something important is being overlooked — the continuing threats to the conscience rights of individuals and institutions in the Affordable Care Act and the regulations that are implementing it (including the HHS contraception/abortifacient mandate).

In a normal, functioning governmental system, important public policy measures are introduced as individual bills, public input is obtained through hearings, and the measure is openly debated by legislators.  Since we no longer appear to have such a system of government, important policy issues are tacked onto spending bills, and our government leaders rely on confrontational strategies and parliamentary gamesmanship to bend others to their will.

Lost in all of this is that crucial constitutional and natural rights are being threatened, and legislative action is needed to provide necessary protection for those rights.

One such proposal is to delay the implementation of the HHS mandate.  The Administration has already granted numerous waivers, delays, exemptions, and grace periods for various provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  What we would like to see is for Congress to vote to delay the implementation of the HHS mandate for one full year, which would give the Supreme Court time to decide some of the cases challenging the mandate.  In essence, all we are asking is that Congress put the controversy on hold, out of respect for the seriousness  of the constitutional rights at stake.

The House has already passed a continuing budget resolution that included that provision, but the Senate has rejected it.  We hope that a more conciliatory, reasonable approach will prevail, and that this common-sense measure would be accepted.

We also hope that genuine conscience protection legislation would be considered by Congress.  For example, the USCCB is advocating with Congress to include the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (which would provide broad protection for religious liberty among health care workers and institutions).   The bishops have also been pressing for legislation to address the specific conscience problems presented by the HHS mandate.

The situation in Washington is extremely frustrating, and it is difficult to see a solution to the partisan gridlock.  All we are asking is for some breakthrough of reasonableness, so that precious liberties aren’t lost in the process.

That shouldn’t be too much to ask.

The Manhattan Declaration Challenges and Rallies Us

Friday, September 27th, 2013

On Wednesday evening, September 25, an amazing event was held on the campus of Columbia University, “The Manhattan Declaration Returns Home”.

The Manhattan Declaration is the ecumenical statement of conscience by Christian leaders, dedicating themselves to defending life, marriage, and religious liberty.  It was signed in 2009 by numerous leading figures of every Christian denomination and church.   The Declaration has since been signed by over 550,000 other people, who have committed themselves to its core principles.  It is a vitally important rallying point for people of faith who are engaged in the struggle to defend and restore a true civilization of life and love in our nation.   If you haven’t signed it yet, I strongly encourage you to sign it right away.

This event at Columbia was co-sponsored by the Archdiocese, Alliance Defending Freedom (who have been heroic leaders in their defense of the Declaration’s core principles), the New York State Knights of Columbus, and DeSales Media from our neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn (who livestreamed the event over the internet).  The event was a landmark, because it represented not only a return of the Declaration to the borough where it was signed, but because of the power of the presentations and the uplifting spirit that they gave the audience.

The speakers were a powerhouse lineup of experts and activists: Eric Teetsel (the director of the Manhattan Declaration); Alan Sears (head of the Alliance Defending Freedom); Ryan Anderson (The Heritage Foundation, and co-author of the seminal book, What is Marriage?  Man and Woman: A Defense), Sherif Girgis (Ph.D. Candidate at Princeton University, J.D. Candidate at Yale University, and co-author of What is Marriage?); Marjorie Dannenfelser (Susan B. Anthony List), Eric Metaxas (Bestselling Author and Radio Commentator), and Jennifer Marshall (The Heritage Foundation).  The evening kicked off with an ecumenical prayer service featuring Cardinal Dolan, who got the program started off on just the right note of prayer and dedication to God’s mission among us.

I served as the emcee of the event, and I made just one small point in my introduction.  In spite of the conditions of our society, and the challenges we face, people of faith remain convinced that it is our duty, our privilege, and our honor to bring God’s light into the public square, into the marketplace of ideas.  We believe that the eternal truths have something important to off our secularized world.  And we are certain that God’s light and truth will enrich the lives of every single human person, and society as a whole.

“The Manhattan Declaration Returns Home” event was important on several levels.  It offered people an outstanding panel of speakers who are actively working to defend life, marriage, and religious liberty.  Their work and expertise offered a sobering view of where we are in America on these issues, but also hope and encouragement for the struggle ahead.  The event was also significant because of where it took place — Columbia University, which was founded as a religious school but now is completely secularized and largely inhospitable to Christian values.  Having this event, at this location, is a microcosm of the work people of faith are doing in the public square — bringing timeless principles of our faith to a society that has largely lost those values, and challenging them to recapture the truth and beauty that they are still yearning for in their hearts.

This struggle is difficult, and the challenges are many.  The world is working very heard to discourage us, and to convince us that the battle is over, and lost.  But we know better.  As Ryan Anderson reminded us, and as the Manhattan Declaration proclaims, the battle is never lost as long as we have truth on our side.  Truth always wins in the end, over any alluring lie.

What the Persecution Will Look Like

Monday, August 26th, 2013

For quite some time, the Church and our allies have been warning that there are grave threats to religious liberty, presented by such developments as the redefinition of marriage, the advance of “gender theory”, and the defensive entrenchment of the pro-abortion mindset.

In response to our warnings, we have been widely ridiculed.  Elite academics, media pundits, and combox denizens pooh-pooh our concerns as mere sensationalist fantasies.  Interestingly, amongst the denials, you can frequently hear a subtle undertone, as if to say “of course your fears of religious persecution are ridiculous (but in any event you are bigots who deserve it because of the immemorial oppression by Christians against [insert your favored group here])”.

Well, for those who have eyes unclouded by ideology, our concerns are becoming even more difficult to deny.  Some recent events give a good general picture of what the persecution will look like.

Excluded from economic activity

Last week, a decision was handed down by the Supreme Court of New Mexico that points the way that our courts will handle cases of religious liberty.  The case involved a photographer who declined to take pictures of a “commitment ceremony” for a lesbian couple (New Mexico does not recognize same-sex “marriage”, but this event was tantamount to a wedding).  Her reason was that participating in such an event would violate her Christian religious beliefs.  The lesbian couple then chose to sue the photographer for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The lower court, and ultimately the New Mexico Supreme Court found that the photographer had violated the state’s anti-discrimination statute, and levied a fine against her.  While the result is troublesome enough, the language in the concurring opinion is truly chilling to hear.  Having lectured at length about the Supreme Court’s decisions on civil rights cases, the concurring judges ended with this:

All of which, I assume, is little comfort to the Huguenins, who now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives. Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering. It will no doubt leave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views.

The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead… But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.

So we can now be compelled by law to compromise our most sacred religious beliefs, as the price of being American citizens.  The court’s message is clear — keep your religious beliefs behind closed doors, and don’t dare to try to live in accordance with them in the public square.

In other words, conform or be cast out.

Disqualified from public office

A second example of the coming persecution happened recently in San Antonio, Texas.  A bill was introduced that would affect eligibility to serve in public office in that city.  The bill states, in part:

No person shall be appointed to a position if the city council finds that such person has, prior to such proposed appointment, engaged in discrimination or demonstrated a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability.

This is another chilling development.  Apparently, all candidates for any kind of position with the city government will be required to pass a test to ensure that they have never uttered a statement that might be construed as “bias” by a bunch of local politicians.  So, for example, if you have ever expressed a faith-based belief about such issues as the immorality of homosexual behavior, opposing the re-definition of marriage, casting doubts upon the notion of “transgender rights”, or even on the evil of abortion, you might be declared ineligible to hold public office.

In other words, conform or be cast out.

The Return of the Penal Laws

Those of Irish heritage will recall the infamous days of the Penal Laws, which systematically excluded Catholics from full participation in society — owning property, serving in the government, and certain professions were all banned for Catholics.  Some of these laws carried over into the United States in the colonial and post-revolutionary era.  Similar laws (like the Alien and Sedition Acts and the anti-Communist bills of the McCarthy era) have been passed at various times in our history to penalize unpopular opinions.  Yet all of these efforts to suppress dissent were eventually rejected as inconsistent with the American dedication to liberty.

But our nation is now returning to that ugly path.  The way is now becoming clear to placing religious believers in an ideological ghetto, if they fail to adhere to the modern view of sexuality.  This will be done in gentle, seemingly-reasonable, gradual and incremental steps.  Courts and legislatures will claim that they are merely extending the reach of previous decisions, and executive agencies will say they are just applying the law as they interpret it.

Sadly, many religious people will choose to conform, as the Israelites did during their captivity in Babylon.  But make no mistake, the remnant will feel the effects of the coming persecution.

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.

What’s Next for Marriage and for Us

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

I was asked yesterday to contribute to an online symposium at National Review Online about the implications of the Supreme Court decisions on marriage.  Here’s my contribution:

From a legal standpoint, the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA is extraordinary and far-reaching. Our entire legal history and tradition regarding marriage continues to be dismantled. Nobody can know what will come from redefining thousands of federal statutes and regulations — wherever the words “marriage” or “spouse” appear. It will take decades to know the ultimate legal consequences.

But there is a deeper meaning. We have been engaged in a great struggle for the soul of our society, and the souls of individuals. The battleground has been over the nature and significance of marriage, and why people should choose marriage as the centerpiece of their lives. We have long been contending against a hostile culture.

This task will go on, regardless of whatever the law might be. Families, schools, and churches will all continue to teach the authentic meaning of marriage — one man, one woman, lifelong, faithful, and inherently oriented to having children. But the terms of engagement have dramatically changed. The Court’s ruling will make our mission more difficult, by branding the real meaning of marriage as mere bigotry, hatred, and irrationality.

In a way, though, this may enable us to become more effective teachers. The big lie at the heart of the Supreme Court’s decision — that same-sex relationships are the same as real marriages — cannot ultimately gain sway over the hearts of people. It is false, and deep in our hearts we know it. And it will only highlight the contrast between the false values of a corrupted society and legal system, and the true virtues of authentic, loving married couples.

The law is a great teacher, and this Supreme Court decision teaches a lie. But the truth about marriage will continue to be attractive to people, who always prefer truth to lies.

Many of the other contributors took a “it’s not as bad as it could have been” approach.  I’m not convinced.  The expansive, dismissive language of the majority opinion — claiming that bigotry alone supports laws defending real marriage — will certainly be used by future litigants to attack the laws of the states that have not yet gone over the edge.  Same-sex “marriage” advocates have already begun predicting that it will only be a matter of five years before they will succeed in overturning all those state laws.

The language of the decision will also be used in the public square to shape the debate, by branding us as the equivalent of racists.  Soon, the media won’t even try to obtain and present our side of the story.  There won’t be much of a debate, if only one side is allowed to show up.

The Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act will also shape the implementation of a wide range of federal laws, which reach far into every recess of American life.  Think only of ERISA (which governs employee benefit plans and pension plans) and the Affordable Care Act (which governs health insurance plans), and you can see how significant will be the redefinition of “marriage” and “spouse” under federal law — every benefit plan, and every health insurance plan, will likely have to cover benefits for same-sex “spouses”.

The potential for conflict with religious liberty and conscience rights will be just as severe as with the HHS mandate.

Likewise, we can easily see a time when the IRS will play a role.  When it scrutinizes the policies of organizations that seek (or already have) tax exempt status, what will happen when it finds that an organization “discriminates” against same-sex couples in employment, benefits or services?  Will “discriminatory” churches be denied tax exempt status, or have it stripped from them? Remember, the old saying, “the power to tax is the power to destroy”.

While I continue to be optimistic that people will see through the lie in the Supreme Court’s decision, as an attorney I’m pessimistic.  People will still choose authentic marriage, and we will continue to teach about it, and call people to it.  But from a lawyer’s perspective, it’s very difficult to see a future that is free of continuing legal and social pressure and conflict, all designed to make us conform to the new view of marriage, and punishing us if we fail to do so.

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.

 

The Next Steps on the Mandate

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

The deadline for the implementation of the HHS contraception/abortion mandate is now upon us. As of August 1, religious organizations will have to compromise their consciences and comply, or apply to the government for an extension or exemption, or risk the penalties of non-compliance.

This deadline will probably have little direct and immediate impact on ordinary Catholics who already have health insurance from Medicare or a private employer. But for the Church, any danger of being forced to compromise with sin will do incalculable damage.  A number of Catholic institutions and dioceses are challenging the mandate in court, but those cases won’t be decided for quite some time.

In the meantime, here are some suggestions about what people can do at this point:

Prayer — This is, of course, our ultimate weapon. We need to pray for our nation; for our elected and appointed officials, for a conversion of heart; for our judges, for wisdom in applying the law to these cases; for those who will be affected by this mandate, that they will have the wisdom and courage to resist as best they can.  For some suggestions about prayer activities, see our webpage about the Fortnight for Freedom.

Advocate — There are significant legislative initiatives that would overturn the HHS mandate and protect our freedom of religion. First and foremost are the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act and the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act. These bills stand on their own, but they are also being attached to appropriations bills that are pending in the House of Representatives. if your Congressional representative is on the Appropriations Committee, please contact and urge them to keep conscience protection in the funding bill.

Support our Bishops — During this bruising political season, our bishops have been taking a beating in the media. They need our support and help, and it would lift their spirits if they heard from faithful Catholics, in support of their efforts to defend the freedom of the Church.

There is an old saying, often mis-attributed to Edmund Burke, but which is true regardless of who said it: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”

Don’t lose hope!  Throughout history, the Lord has stood by us in our hour of need, and assured us, as He did to Gideon, “I will be with you” (Judges 6:16).  Let us pray with confidence to Our Lady, Help of Christians, for the strength and constancy we need.