In less than two months, the Standard-Times has featured another article by Bonnie Erbe—she seems to be a favorite of the local paper—in which Bonnie once again tries to link the US Catholic Church leaders to a political party as regards the question of the Obama Administration’s proposed insurance mandate that would force Americans to violate their conscience and the religious liberty that is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Once again we call on our local paper to feature a national column on the true Catholic position as regards the health care mandate of President Obama that violates religious freedom and would force churches and religious organizations to provide abortion-induced drugs and devices, as well as surgical sterilization and contraception in their insurance plans.
In this column, we want to outline clearly what is the correct Catholic Church position on the Obama Administration’s recent compromising statement on insurance coverage that does not meet the standards of respecting religious liberty and moral convictions of all the stakeholders in the health coverage transaction.
The Catholic Church remains fully committed to defense of our religious liberty, and we strongly protest the violation of our freedom of religion that has not been addressed. Violation of our religious freedom is at the center of this vital issue.
The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services has received wide attention and has been met with vigorous and united opposition. In an unprecedented way, the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty. This amounts to an unjust law. An unjust law cannot be obeyed. It must be pointed out loudly and clearly that this is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, and abortifacient drugs even it that violates their religious beliefs. So that she doesn’t make other false assumptions, Bonnie Erbe needs to read clearly the latest Catholic statement on this important matter of conscience and religious freedom.
The debate is not about access to contraception, nor is it about religious freedom of Catholics only, but also those who recognize that their cherished beliefs may be next on the block. This is not about the Bishops “banning contraception” when the U.S.Supreme Court took that issue off the table two generations ago. This is not about women’s health care—which we want for them and all men. Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything. Rather, it is instead about the federal government forcing the Church, consisting of its Faithful and its institutions—to act against Church teaching. This is not a matter of opposition to universal health care, which has been the concern of the Bishops Conference since 1919, virtually at its founding. This is not as Erbe would want to characterize it—about a Republican, Democratic, a Conservative or Liberal issue – it is an American issue.
At the heart of this issue is that the government has no place defining religion and religious ministry.. The government would want to create and enforce a new distinction—alien both to our Catholic tradition and to federal law--between our houses of worship and our great ministries of service to our neighbors—namely the poor, the homeless, the sick, the students in schools and universities, and others in need, of any faith community or none.
The health mandate forced by the government is an error in theory—an error that has great consequences in principle and practice. It violates basic principles of morality, and violates the practice of freedom of religion as understood in the First Amendment.
At the basis of the Church’s position on this critical issue is the teaching about religious liberty. The human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom comes from God, not from any human being. This freedom means that all people are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of a social group, or any human power, in such ways that in matters of religion, no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his or her own beliefs—This right of human persons to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed. Thus, it is to become a civil right.
A recent letter to President Obama from some sixty religious leaders, including Christians of many denominations and Jews, argued that “It is emphatically not only Catholics who deeply object to the requirement that health plans they purchase must provide coverage of contraception that includes some that are abortifacients.”
Let it be said loudly and clearly as regards this issue – that we do not seek a sacred public square which gives special privileges and benefits to religious citizens. Rather, we seek a civil public square, where all citizens can make their contributions to the common good. At our best, we might call this an American public square.
Never before has the federal government used its power to violate religious liberty in the way it is happening now, insisting that religious organizations pay for programs that violate their moral convictions.
A decade after drafting the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. In it, he stated: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.”