How often have you heard of a church bringing a lawsuit against the President of the United States? It has happened, but certainly not often. This week it was not just any church that brought suit against the Obama administration — it was the Roman Catholic Church no less! I honestly believe that Mr. Obama couldn’t care less if his signature health plan seriously erodes religious liberty in extraordinary ways. I doubt that Mr. Obama wanted to energize religious voters against him, but he has done it.
Fascinating it is to observe the Obama administration’s trampling of centuries honored religious liberty under the guise of “women’s rights.” The Wall Street Journal carried three excellent articles on this unprecedented move by the Catholic church; one was on the front page of the printed version yesterday — Catholics Sue Over Health Mandate:
The University of Notre Dame, the Archdiocese of New York and 41 other Roman Catholic institutions sued the Obama administration in federal court Monday, the latest push against a requirement in the health-care-overhaul law that employers cover contraception in workers’ health plans.
The lawsuits were brought in a dozen different jurisdictions in the U.S., and plaintiffs included the Catholic University of America and archdioceses serving Dallas, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.
“The government…cannot justify its decision to force Notre Dame to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to these services in violation of its sincerely held religious beliefs,” Notre Dame’s lawsuit argues. “If the government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in such a manner, there is no apparent limit to the government’s power.”
Consider the centuries old traditions of Catholics and their families.
The plaintiffs object to a provision that requires most employers to cover all preventive health services including contraception as part of their insurance policies, without out-of-pocket costs for consumers. Sterilization was one of the methods of birth control included, as was the so-called morning-after pill.
“We have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with the Congress—and we’ll keep at it—but there’s still no fix,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.”
“We do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others; we simply ask that the government not impose its values on the university when those values conflict with our religious teachings,” he said.
That law says the government can “substantially burden” people in practicing their religion only if it can show that there is a “compelling governmental interest” and that its policy is “the least restrictive means of furthering” that interest.
An Op-Ed piece appeared in yesterday’s Journal as well: Why the Bishops Are Suing the U.S. Government:
Like most Americans, the bishops have long taken for granted the religious freedom that has enabled this nation’s diverse religions to flourish in relative harmony. But over the past year they have become increasingly concerned about the erosion of conscience protections for church-related individuals and institutions. Their top-rated program for assistance to human trafficking victims was denied funding for refusing to provide “the full range of reproductive services,” including abortion. For a time, Catholic Relief Services faced a similar threat to its international relief programs. The bishops fear religious liberty is becoming a second-class right.
Continued attempts to solve the problem by negotiation produced only an announcement by the Obama administration in February that insurance providers would pay for the contested services. Since many Catholic entities are self-insured and the others pay the premiums, the bishops’ concerns were not alleviated.
The main goal of the mandate is not, as HHS claimed, to protect women’s health. It is rather a move to conscript religious organizations into a political agenda, forcing them to facilitate and fund services that violate their beliefs, within their own institutions.
The media have implied all along that the dispute is mainly of concern to a Catholic minority with peculiar views about human sexuality. But religious leaders of all faiths have been quick to see that what is involved is a flagrant violation of religious freedom. That’s why former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, declared, “We’re all Catholics now.”
More is at stake here than the mission of all churches, including the Catholic Church, to provide social services like health care and education to everyone regardless of creed, and to do so without compromising their beliefs. At the deepest level, we are witnessing an attack on the institutions of civil society that are essential to limited government and are important buffers between the citizen and the all-powerful state.
If religious providers of education, health care and social services are closed down or forced to become tools of administration policy, the government consolidates a monopoly over those essential services. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, put it, we are witnessing an effort to reduce religion to a private activity. “Never before,” he said, “have we faced this kind of challenge to our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith.”
With this week’s lawsuits, the bishops join a growing army of other plaintiffs around the country, Catholic and non-Catholic, who are asking the courts to repel an unprecedented governmental assault on the ability of religious persons and groups to practice their religion without being forced to violate their deepest moral convictions.
A third article in the WSJ was published yesterday as well — Catholics in Court — The religious-liberty lawsuit against ObamaCare is historic:
[…]The nation’s most prominent Catholic institutions are saying that the same federal government they have viewed for decades as an ally in their fight for social justice is now a threat to their religious liberty.
This can’t have been an easy decision, especially because the plaintiffs are hardly founding members of the tea party. They include the Archdioceses of New York and Washington but also Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and even the University of Notre Dame.
So much for that. The lawsuit signals that far from engaging with “those who disagree,” Mr. Obama has rebuffed Catholic leaders in their attempt to work out a compromise over the Administration’s mandate that all insurance plans offer contraception and sterilization services, including abortifacients. . . .
The Department of Health and Human Services offered a fig leaf in February, foisting the mandate onto insurance companies rather than religious employers. […] As Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York put it, this so-called “safe habor” effectively gives religious institutions “a year to figure out how to violate [their] consciences.”
The suit charges that the mandate violates the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, as well as the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that the federal government meet a higher legal standard for any law that interferes with religious liberty.
The real and startling question at issue is whether the entitlement state can pound everything, including religious belief, to its political will. Few previous Administrations would have dared such a high-stakes Constitutional battle, but Mr. Obama’s willfulness reveals the change that is taking place in liberal politics.
Once upon a time the political left viewed Catholics and especially the bishops as their allies in using government to create more equal opportunity and redistribute income. But today’s Democratic Party puts a higher cultural value on sexual politics and expanded reproductive freedom. We trust the courts will instruct the Administration that the Constitution still puts religious liberty first.
“Religious freedom is too sacred a right to be restricted or prohibited in any degree without convincing proof that a legitimate interest of the state is in grave danger.” ~ Frank Murphy
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