Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The most serious threat to religious liberty

The January 20 final rule from Kathleen Sebelius and DHHS is the most stunning attack on the First Amendment, religious liberty, and conscience rights in America in our time.  

There is something perversely Orwellian about the whole thing--forcing people to purchase directly services they abhor in violation of their conscience; defining contraception, including abortifacients, as preventive health care--is pregnancy now a disease?--requiring people to collude in the killing of babies in their mother's womb--calling a woman's right what is literally and on a vast scale the slaughter of innocents while making no exemption for those millions who, as a matter of deep religious conviction, see it as murder.

If the Obama administration carries through on this threat and if and to the extent that Catholic schools, hospitals, charities, universities and colleges, including agencies that serve the poorest and most vulnerable, remain faithful to the Church and their own consciences, there will be a huge decline in services and programs as these institutions close down.  (We have already seen Catholic Charities forced out of all adoption services in some states where they were required to place children with homosexual couples, so reducing services to all children.  This ruling is incomparably more coercive and on a much vaster scale.)  And why?  It is not as if contraceptives were not already widely available on the market for those who want to purchase them.

On the face of it, picking a fight like this makes no sense for an administration that claims to care about access to health care, education, and services to the poor.  Already they have alienated many Catholics who found it in their consciences to support Obama in 2008.  In order not to alienate secular-liberal feminists who give them enormous sums of money but have nowhere else to go politically?  Or is the point to get the Supreme Court to do the dirty work of standing up to the anti-Catholic, secularist, and/or feminist opponents of religious freedom for the administration--which then can mobilize its supporters with the haunting specter of another appointment to the Court of a justice not given to trampling the First Amendment or inventing constitutional rights out of thin air?

Obama's strategy all along has been to isolate faithful Catholics and split off the Catholics in Name Only, the CINOs who populate the Democratic Party leadership (and sadly, much of its base), the tendency represented by the National 'Catholic' Reporter.  The strategy worked well and the administration found some prominent Catholic supporters, like Doug Kmiec and even the Catholic Health Association, to provide cover  for a national health care program that would fund abortions.  But this time Obama, Sebelius, and Pelosi may have gone too far, losing support among its own erstwhile supporters.

If it is a miscalculation, part of the reason must be the failure of imagination of secular and religious liberals alike--the supporters of Planned Parenthood, abortion, and contraception.  They simply cannot understand how anyone could think differently from them on the issues of life and death, sex and marriage.  Hence the immediate resort to words like extremist, weird, fundamentalist, fanatical, etc., to characterize the mainstream, vanilla, faithful adherents of the orthodox Judeo-Christian tradition that has no hold on them and which they can no longer even understand.

Here is a recent statement of the US bishops in the context of the National March for Life:

Bishops Decry HHS Rule, Urge Catholics To Stand Up For Religious Liberty And Conscience Rights In Homilies At Vigil For Life

January 23, 2012
WASHINGTON—Both the president of the U.S. bishops and the bishops’ Pro-Life chairman called on the thousands of Catholics gathered for the National Prayer Vigil for Life to speak out for the protection of conscience rights and religious liberty.

“From a human point of view, we may be tempted to surrender, when our government places conception, pregnancy and birth under the ‘center for disease control,’ when chemically blocking conception or aborting the baby in the womb is considered a ‘right’ to be subsidized by others who abhor it,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at the vigil’s closing Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on January 23.
His words referred to the January 20 announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that nearly all employers will be forced to cover drugs and procedures that violate their conscience in their health insurance plans.

“When the ability of feeding, housing, and healing the struggling of the world is curtailed and impeded if one does not also help women abort their babies, one can hardly be faulted for being tempted to the ‘sin against the Holy Spirit’ and just consider all as lost,” Cardinal-designate Dolan said.
Addressing the opening Mass the previous evening, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, excoriated the HHS rule.

“Never before in our US History has the Federal Government forced citizens to directly purchase what violates our beliefs. At issue here as our President of the Conference stated it this past Friday, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for conscience and religious liberty,” said Cardinal DiNardo.
He cited the January 19 address of Pope Benedict XVI to U.S. bishops visiting Rome, in which the pope said, “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 appreciated at every level of ecclesial life.”

Cardinal DiNardo said that the pope had “nailed” the issue in light of the HHS announcement and tied the issue directly to the March for Life. “His calls for courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public life and debate have targeted the issues we face in our pro-life efforts, to defend those who defend human life and to defend their religious liberty!”
The full text of both homilies is available online:

And here are some links on this issue:

USCCB statetment on HHS Rule:

Video of Cardinal-Designate Dolan, President of the USCCB, speaking about HHS rule:

Catholic Charities USA's statement on HHS rule:

Michael Sean Winter's Distinctly Catholic blog commenting on HHS Rule:

USCCB fact sheet on HHS rule: Click here 

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