One of the most common claims that we’ve heard is that the HHS mandate actually won’t be a big deal in practice, and that the Church is either “crying wolf” or being hyper-sensitive. The argument is that the Administration’s “accommodation” means that the responsibility for paying for the offensive services has been shifted from the employer to the insurer, so religious employers and individuals have nothing to worry about.
This is not at all accurate, and fails to account for how the mandate will work in practice.
The reality is that the mandate will drag words out of our mouths that we would never freely choose to utter, and force us to do things that we would never freely do. It will coerce direct and repeated conduct and speech by Church employees — acting on the authority of and in the name of the diocese and the bishop.
Consider how an employer selects and administers a health insurance program for their employees. Contracts for health insurance coverage must be negotiated and signed by a diocesan official, usually a high ranking official like the director of Human Resources, the Chief Financial Officer, or the Chancellor. These contracts are then packaged into a plan booklet, which is issued by the Human Resources office in the name of the diocese, and usually accompanied by a letter to employees from a high ranking official — or even the bishop himself. Details about the plan are usually incorporated into the official personnel manual of the diocese, which is issued by the Human Resources department and often promulgated by the bishop himself or a high ranking official designated by him.
Officials in the Human Resources department, and every individual department and institution, will process applications for insurance coverage, and will routinely discuss the details of the plan with current and prospective employees. In the case of any self-insured diocese, there is a further layer of involvement between the diocese and the services, since diocesan officials or their agents will have to issue checks drawn on diocesan funds, to pay for the services.
At each of these instances, a diocesan official would be taking formal and specific knowledge of the details of the health insurance plan. They will also be required to do things — taking a action or making a statement — that specifically endorse the insurance policy as a formal act of the diocese, and thus of the bishop himself.
This strikes directly at the heart of individual and institutional freedom of conscience. Throughout American history, we have shown by exempting people from laws that would violate their religious beliefs — for example, think of Jehovah Witnesses and the Pledge of Allegiance, or Quakers with the military draft. Our laws contain hundreds of such exemptions. They represent, in many ways, the best part of the American character.
This regulation, on the other hand, represents the worst part of modern America — the exercise of raw political power to deny the rights of an entire class of people, and to benefit a favored class of political supporters, all in the service of an anti-life ideology.
We must resist.