Archive for the ‘Conscience’ Category

An Encouraging Victory for Religious Liberty

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

The Supreme Court has issued a very important ruling on the HHS mandate.  By a narrow 5 to 4 majority, the Court found in favor of the religious liberty rights of two family-owned businesses, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood.  The Court held that they do not have to fund insurance coverage for abortion-causing contraceptives that they consider to violate their religious beliefs about the sanctity of human life.

This is a significant victory for religious liberty. It shows that the government does not have unlimited power to force people to violate their beliefs. It is also a vindication for all those who have objected to the HHS mandate, and who have defended religious freedom.

There has been, and will continue to be, a great deal of commentary on this decision.  At this point, though, it’s valuable to make sure that we understand clearly just what the Court did, and what it did not do:

  • The decision was was based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), and not the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.   However, the Court recognized that RFRA offers broader protection to religious liberty than the First Amendment.
  • The decision does not in any way restrict access to contraceptives, nor will it impose any additional costs on women who seek them.  This ruling is very limited — it just requires the government to find some other way to accomplish the basic (and in my view, lamentable) goal of the HHS mandate — free contraceptives — without requiring the corporations to pay for them.
  • However, the ruling does mean that the government, in pursuit of its public policy goals, cannot impose substantial burdens on religious believers, without seeking some way to accommodate or exempt them.
  • It is not clear what impact this decision will have — if any — on the challenges brought against the HHS mandate by religious non-profit organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor and Catholic Charities.   There is much speculation about this, even to the point of very close analysis of a particular sentence in the majority opinion, but that’s all it is — speculation.  The Court specifically left that issue open for a future decision.
  • This case upholds the idea that corporations have legal standing under RFRA (in legal parlance, they are “persons” within the meaning of the statute).  The Court recognized that corporations are just vehicles through which real, live human beings act, and, in some cases, exercise their own constitutional rights.  This is an important recognition of the Catholic social teaching about the value of mediating institutions that operate in society and stand between the state and individuals.
  • The ruling was limited by the Court to closely-held corporations that are controlled by religious people who operate with explicitly religious missions.  It does not give carte blanche to all corporations to ignore generally applicable laws.
  • Nor does the case give automatic permission for religious people to engage in discrimination on account of race, sex, etc.  Despite the fear-mongering in the dissenting opinion and in the media, this notion was specifically ruled out in the majority and concurring opinions.  Any claim for a religious exemption will still have to satisfy the scrutiny of a court, applying the standards of RFRA to the particular facts of each individual situation.
  • The Court did not strike down the Affordable Care Act or the HHS mandate in general.  That was not at issue in the case at all.
  • The discussion and debate about this issue, and about the general intersection of law and religion, will certainly continue.  A pluralistic society like ours should recognize and respect a broad scope for the fundamental human right to freedom of conscience, consistent with public order and safety.

    So we have much to be thankful for.  Please give thanks to God for the wisdom of the Justices in the majority of the Supreme Court, and for the courage and persistence of the owners of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood and their attorneys, particularly those at the Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom.

    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 Power of the Powerless

    Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

    In my last post, I outlined the need for resistance against unjust laws that threaten the freedoms of religious and pro-life people.  In this post, I’m going to present a “menu of resistance” — essentially a list of things that people can do to give actual life to their conscientious objections to injustices like the contraception and abortion mandates, attempts to force the recognition of same-sex “marriages”, restrictions on free speech, and the like.

    Before presenting these suggestions, I would like to stress several important points.

    First, this is not an official statement or position of the Archdiocese of New York — it is my opinion, and mine alone. Take these ideas for what they’re worth, but they are not attributable to the Archdiocese in any way.

    Second, I don’t want anyone to be under any illusion here — some of these suggestions may lead people into legal difficulties with the authorities.  Governments generally are very intolerant of dissent and civil disobedience.  So people should assess their level of risk, and prepare themselves to accept the consequences of their actions.

    Third, and most important, the watchword of resistance to injustice is always that we speak the truth with love.  That is non-negotiable.  Our aim is the conversion of hearts, not the exertion of power.

    With that having been said, here are some suggestions about how people can

  • Learn about your rights.  Most states have laws that grant protection to religious belief.  For example, here in New York, our Human Rights Law contains fairly broad protection against discrimination on the basis of religious belief, and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for believers.  Courts in New York have already held that opposition to abortion is protected under these laws.
  • Take advantage of the law.  Many unjust laws provide for exemptions and appeals.  For instance, private employers can file for an exemptions from the HHS abortion/contraception mandate.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if HHS received a letter from every parish, every school, every hospital, every nursing home, every Catholic employer in the United States — thousands of requests for exemptions that they would have to process?  Do you think that might let them understand how significant an intrusion their mandate is?
  • Use the government’s own legal process.  Appeal any denial of a request for an exemption.  File complaints with civil rights offices of government agencies when they try to force you to cooperate with unjust laws.  Explain to them that complying with the law would violate your Constitutional rights.  For example, you can file a complaint with the Civil Rights Office of HHS here.  All states (like New York) and most localities also have human rights commissions — file complaints with them as well.
  • Be persistent.  Protest letters to government agencies are likely to be ignored at first, or summarily denied without any reason.  If that happens, appeal to higher authorities at the agency, and go up the ladder, all the way to the person in charge.
  • Ask your elected officials for help.  Send copies of your complaints and appeals to your representatives in Congress or the State Legislature.  Ask them to intervene with the agency on your behalf.  Insist that they send you a response.  Go to their district office and ask for help in person.
  • Always tell the truth. Never tell a lie to a government official — if it’s a federal official, that’s a crime.  So, for example, if you are called upon to fill out a form, and it asks for an answer that you cannot honestly give, leave it blank and write a cover letter explaining your objection.
  • Don’t pay for injustice.  Refuse to pay fees for insurance coverage for abortion and contraception.  Write to your health insurance company and ask for a rebate for any funds spent on abortion.  When they ignore you, write to the board of directors and the president of the company.  If they insist that you pay, send them the fee in pennies, write a polite protest letter.
  • Write to your elected officials.  Make clear to them that you want them to pass just laws, and repeal unjust laws.  Do it over, and over, and over.  Join email networks like the New York State Catholic Conference Advocacy Network and the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment and send easy emails to your representatives.
  • Write to candidates.  Explain to them that you will never vote for them unless they oppose unjust laws.  If you can’t think of anything else to say, tell them that you agree with Cardinal Egan:  “Anyone who dares to defend that [an unborn child] may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name”.
  • Don’t vote for them.  Speaking for myself, I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you don’t respect human life, don’t see the need to preserve marriage as one man and one woman, and won’t defend religious liberty, I won’t vote for you.  I refuse to choose “the lesser of two evils” — because then, all I’ll ever get is evil.
  • Participate in public witness.  It is vitally important that we be seen by the general public as sane, reasonable, committed people.  Participate in prayerful and peaceful vigils like those run by the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants.  Join positive, well-informed rallies like the ones sponsored by “Stand Up for Religious Freedom”.  Always obey the law.  Remember — numbers don’t matter — witness does.
  • Support lawsuits against unjust laws.  There are many great organizations that are fighting in court to defend religious liberty, like the Alliance Defense Fund and the Becket Fund.  If you have some extra, send them some cash.  Join their lawsuits — wouldn’t it be great if a million Catholics joined a gigantic class action suit against the contraceptive and abortion mandates?
  • Refuse to speak the lie. Always tell the truth — abortion is not health care, contraception is bad for women, men and society, marriage is only a union of one man and one woman, and religious belief is not hatred or bigotry.  Remember, your silence may be taken as agreement or surrender, so make sure that you speak out.
  • Don’t cooperate in the lie.  Don’t do anything that will recognize the lie.  For example, don’t give your employees information about contraception or abortion coverage, erase it from your company’s plan books, refuse to recognize any same-sex marriages.  Remember that human rights laws protect religious liberty.  If you think your rights are in danger, use the magic words — “I’m going to consult with a lawyer”.  Then call a group that defends liberty, like the Alliance Defense Fund.
  • Stick together. One of the things that people find demoralizing is the sense that they’re all alone, and that nobody agrees with them.  But we are not alone — we’re a gigantic movement.  So, write letters to the editor of your newspaper, post comments on friendly blogs (and ignore the flames that come back in response), put the truth up on your Facebook page (even if people will “unfriend” you), pass around supportive emails, join a pro-life organization like the Knights of Columbus or your local pro-life committee.
  • Pray, pray, pray.  For everyone involved — those being oppressed as well as their oppressors.  This is not going to be easy.  But remember what St. Paul said:  “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)
  • Resistance reminds people of a sense of their power, even when they appear to the whole world to be powerless.  The truth, expressed with love, is an enormously influential force.  Worlds and lives can change, when people have the courage to testify to the truth.  We can lift each other up by our steadfastness.

    Even if we have no idea how our actions will play out, each individual moral act will have a ripple effect, the ends of which we cannot foresee.  Even if we never see the end result, we can always be satisfied that we have been faithful to our beliefs.

    And we can never underestimate the power of the powerless.  Especially when God is with us.

     

    Revision and Resistance

    Monday, May 14th, 2012

    Most people are not aware of it, but the founding documents of our nation have been fundamentally re-written in recent years.  Here is how the key passage of the Declaration of Independence has now been revised to read:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that some people are created more equal than others, that some of them are endowed by their government with certain alienable rights that can be given or taken away at any time, at the whim of the government.

    And here is part of the First Amendment to the Constitution:

    Congress shall make many laws respecting an establishment of religion, and prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    We now live in a nation that is systematically revising its intellectual and legal foundation.  We are in grave danger of abandoning its commitment to fundamental human rights, rooted in human nature and natural law.  That foundation is being replaced by a system of positivism and secularism.  I have written on this blog many times about this trend.  For a fuller explanation of what it means, check out Cardinal Dolan’s important address to Fordham Law School.

    In concrete terms, we can see these threats to religious liberty and fundamental rights in many places: the HHS Mandate, the abortion mandate in the health care law, the radical re-definition of marriage, and efforts to suppress the speech of pro-lifers.

    In the face of these threats to our liberties, ordinary citizens frequently feel powerless.  After all, the government is very large and very powerful, and we think we are isolated and alone.  We fear for our livelihoods and our families if we run afoul of the law.

    So what can we do?

    We must resist.

    The starting place for resistance is to understand what it means, and what it does not.  I strongly urge everyone to read two key works that explain the reasons and tactics for resisting unjust laws enacted by civil governments — Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless.

    These essays stress a number of essential points:

  • Resistance is a duty of all citizens when faced by injustice.  It is not an “extra-credit” activity.
  • It must be always be grounded in the truth.  It makes no compromise with lies, and always seeks to expose them.
  • It must always be pursued with love and respect.  It is not an excuse for violence and lawlessness.
  • The goal is conversion of heart on the part of those who support injustice, not overbearing their will with power.  It’s message always is “come, join us”, and never “we will force you to agree”.
  • The most important tactic is our willingness to testify to the truth by our words and our actions, and our refusal to cooperate with injustice and lies.
  • Underlying this duty of resistance is an important understanding of the freedom of conscience.  My conscience is not just reflected in my external decisions, but it involves the very core of who I am as a human person.  It is the inner sanctuary where I encounter God’s law.   It is in my conscience that I hear the voice of God, speaking the truth to me.  It is there that I must be true to myself, and to the will of God.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the document of the Second Vatican Council, On the Dignity of the Human Person (especially paragraph 3), explain this beautifully.  These documents should also be studied with care.

    The government may attempt to coerce my external cooperation with injustice by imposing penalties, fines, and so on.  But no government, and no law, can force me to accept a lie as the truth.

    That is the heart of resistance — the ultimate freedom of the human heart.

     

    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 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”.

    The Message Could Not Be Clearer

    Friday, January 20th, 2012

    The juxtaposition of events couldn’t have been more stark.  Nor could the message be any clearer — the current Administration has a deep-seated, inveterate hostility to religious freedom.

    The first event happened just last week, in its most important religious liberty decision in decades, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the autonomy of churches to act according to their beliefs, without government intrusion.   The case was Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and I’ve written about it before.  Essentially, the case involved the ability of churches and other religious organizations to choose their own leaders, according to their religious beliefs.

    It’s important to note that, in deciding the case, the Supreme Court specifically rejected the Administration’s argument that churches have no special protection in the choice of their leaders, and should be given no more deference in such decisions than any other association — like a bowling league.  This, despite the fact that the First Amendment grants clear, specific protection to the freedom of religion.

    That was a bold example of the radicalism of this Administration, and their disdain for religious freedom.  Fortunately, the Supreme Court can actually read the Constitution, and understands what it means — and handed down the clearly correct ruling.

    The second event happened today.  The Administration announced that it was going to issue final regulations that would require religious organizations to provide full health insurance coverage for sterilization, abortifacient drugs, and contraceptives.  A very narrow exemption was granted, but it is so tiny in its coverage that few, if any, organizations will qualify.  I’ve written about this regulation before as well.

    Religious organizations of all denominations had denounced this plan, and had called for a broader exemption, in order to respect the conscience rights of those who object to being forced to pay for morally offensive drugs and procedures.  Yet the Administration disdained their request, and made no changes in the proposal.

    Again, you could not ask for a clearer example of the hostility of this Administration towards religious freedom.  The secularist, anti-life ideology of our rulers will not compromise, and will force all others to conform.

    Sometimes, things are seen most clearly from a distance.  Yesterday, Pope Benedict received some of the bishops of the United States at one of their periodic “ad limina” meetings.  In his remarks to the bishops, the Holy Father made some pointed observations about the threats to religious liberty:

    it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.

    Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.

    The Holy Father is right.  We as lay Catholics need to take action to defend our freedom, and the freedom of our Church.

    Remember, elections matter.

     

     

    We are Now Enemies of the State

    Friday, October 21st, 2011

    I have been warning for some time about the intolerance that we are likely to face from the forces of “tolerance” who backed the bill legalizing same-sex “marriage” here in New York.

    The other day, the impending persecution became even clearer, as Governor Cuomo, the highest public official of New York State, declared us to be enemies of the state and nation.

    He was speaking to a group of “gay rights” advocates about the process that led to the passage of the so-called “Marriage Equality Act”.  He was remarkably candid about that process, including interesting remarks about the power of money in buying votes, and the behind-the-scenes negotiations for votes.  (By the way, this account of the event comes from the “Gay City News” — I refuse to link to such a source, so you’ll have to take my word for it).

    When asked if he found persuasive any arguments offered by the opposition to re-defining marriage, this is what the Governor of all New Yorkers said:

    “There is no answer from the opposition. There really isn’t. Ultimately, it’s, ‘I want to discriminate.’ And that’s anti-New York. It’s anti-American.”

    Savor that quotation for a moment, and drink in the depth of its arrogance, contempt, and hostility.

    No answer by defenders of marriage?

  • Not the thorough and comprehensive philosophical arguments rooted in natural law, offered by Sherif Girgis, Robert George and their colleagues?
  • Not the repeated statements of the United States Bishops and the New York State Bishops?
  • Not the arguments offered by the public in the 41 states that have rejected the re-definition of marriage?
  • Not the arguments that were deemed persuasive by 85 Senators, 342 Representatives, and President Clinton when the Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1996?
  • Not the arguments offered by Mr. Cuomo’s predecessor as state Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, that were found persuasive by our Court of Appeals in the case upholding the real definition of marriage?
  • Not the arguments we were giving legislators in the hallways of the State Capitol and their home offices, for weeks prior to the vote?
  • In reality, Mr. Cuomo doesn’t just disagree with our arguments, he denies their existence.  He clearly believes that they are pernicious, beyond the pale of proper discourse, and motivated only by hatred.

    That is why he has now declared that we are “anti-American” — that is to say, enemies of our nation.

    Those of us who have memories of American history are deeply angered and disturbed by such rhetoric.  We recall a time when Catholics (and the Irish in particular) were deemed to be a threat to America, and were openly persecuted. We thought that we were past those days, but obviously they are returning.

    And remember, the Governor’s thuggish remarks don’t just target the Catholic Church, but also the Orthodox Jewish community, the Evangelical Christian community, many mainline Protestant Churches and Muslims, and others of no religious faith who all believe in the authentic, traditional meaning of marriage.

    It is a chilling moment when the top elected official of our state — a man who took an oath to uphold the Constitutions of our state and nation — has declared that so many people are political pariahs.  When he calls us enemies of the state.

    This is legitimately frightening.  We all know what the power of the state can do to its enemies.

    Secularism in Action

    Friday, September 23rd, 2011

    In my last post, I proposed that many of our social and political disputes stem from a fundamental conflict in how one views the human person — the Secularist view versus the Incarnational view.  That may or may not be an interesting point, but how does it play out in the real world?

    To see the impact of this conflict, we need look no further than the recently-announced regulations by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.  The Department was acting pursuant to a provision in the health care “reform” law that mandates coverage of “preventive services”, a term that would ordinarily encompass medical care that prevents diseases.  The Department, reflecting the Administration’s contraceptive mentality, has decided that pregnancy is a disease to be prevented, and has mandated that every private health insurance plan cover — without any charge to the insured person — contraceptive drugs and devices (including some that clearly have the effect of causing an abortion) and sterilization surgery.

    I’m not going to discuss the absurdity and iniquity of this proposal.  Those should be self-evident.  I want to focus for now on how it demonstrates the impact of  Secularism on religious liberty.

    HHS has proposed an exemption from this rule for “religious employers”.  Note this — not religious individuals, who will be forced to pay premiums for immoral drugs and procedures.  Not religious insurance companies, which will be forced to pay for them.  Only religious employers can be exempt, if they satisfy HHS’s view of what that term means.

    It is in this definition that we find the Secularist attack on religion and on human liberty.   HHS has defined “religious employer” to mean only an organization (a) whose purpose is the inculcation of religious values, (b) that primarily hires persons who share the  organization’s religious tenets, and (c) that primarily serves person who share those tenets.  So, you only count as a religious institution if you are solely religious in your activities, and you refrain from interacting with anyone else — in other words, if you keep your religion entirely in the private sphere, and dare not step out into society as a whole.

    Think of how narrow this definition is.  Every Catholic social service or health care agency serves the needy, regardless of their faith.  Every Catholic parish has many purposes, including the celebration of liturgy and sacraments and the salvation of souls.  Every Catholic school has multiple educational purposes beyond just inculcating religious values.

    Jesus himself  wouldn’t qualify for this exemption.

    The regulation raises many disturbing questions for the future of religious liberty in our nation.  How will HHS determine whether an organization qualifies?  How will they determine what the purpose of the institution is?  How will they tell if the employees or clients share our religious tenets?  Will there be a test given by HHS?  Will people be asked about their beliefs by a government official?  Will a government agency, perhaps called the State Administration for Religious Affairs, be set up to make these determinations or to issue certificates or licenses to religious groups?

    The point here is not just the reflexive hostility that this regulation displays for religion and religious believers.  Rather, it is that the government considers itself authorized or qualified to define what an authentic religious organization is.  And that in their mind, the only acceptable religion is the one that keeps to itself, keeps quiet, and follows orders.

    This is the impact of Secularism on our society, with all the coercive power of the government at its disposal.