This is the second in a series of posts about the HHS Mandate that all health insurance policies cover contraceptives (including drugs that cause early abortions) and sterilizations. There are so many misconceptions about what this mandate will involve, that I thought it would be helpful to lay out the facts.
Supporters of the mandate like to say that the various “compromises” and “accommodations” proposed by the Administration will ensure that individuals and religious institutions will be left alone and won’t have to do anything that violates their rights.
This fails to appreciate how the mandate will work in the real world. This mandate will inevitably lead to intrusive and offensive government investigations into religious organizations.
In order to qualify for the religious employer exemption, every religious organization will have to file with HHS a certification that they satisfy all the criteria. Since our parishes and schools are each separate employers, every single parish and every single school will have to file such a statement.
By filing that statement, every single one of our parishes, schools, and other agencies will be vulnerable to compliance investigation by HHS. Think for a second about this staggering scenario. Imagine an HHS employee who has the authority to grant or deny exemptions, and thus to levy onerous fines. This official will have the authority to come into our buildings and demand that a pastor or principal produce proof of the religious mission of the parish or school. He could demand that they document how they and their staffs spend their time, to see if they are really engaged in religious work. He can demand records about the religious affiliation of their employees and staff, and on the students in the school or religious education program or youth sports program. Nobody knows what criteria he will use to evaluate this information, or what standards the parish or school will have to meet.
It is difficult to conceive of a more intrusive and arbitrary government interference with the internal operations of a Church agency. It’s like a scene from a Kafka novel. Anyone who has ever had dealings with the IRS, the EPA, the Unemployment Office, or any other powerful, impersonal, unaccountable government agency, would recoil in horror.
This kind of intrusion is utterly inconsistent with authentic religious liberty, as upheld in the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hosanna Tabor case, which upheld the freedom of churches to govern their internal affairs, free from state interference. In fact, the risk of this kind of entanglement between the government and religious institutions was a significant factor in that decision.
Is this really what we want — where the government will come directly into the internal affairs of our churches and pass judgment on whether we’re “religious” enough? In America?
Thanks to the HHS Mandate, it’s not only conceivable, it’s inevitable.