Not just freedom to worship

This quote is from a Catholic man speaking to other Catholic men, but his message is for all of us, regardless of gender or faith or state in life. Remember what kind of freedom we as Americans have been able to enjoy; don’t leave the future to others; know when and how to talk back when conscience rights are threatened.

In the early days of Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, some American bishops visited Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict knew about the mandate already. In his formal remarks to the bishops, he said that lay women and men – everyday people – have to step up. That’s not just about Catholics. Did you know the owners of Hobby Lobby identify themselves as evangelical Christians, and the owners of Conestoga Wood Products are Mennonites? They’re the ones who prevailed at the Supreme Court. They knew what Benedict was talking about, even if they never heard him speak.

Pope Benedict to American bishops, January 19, 2012 (emphasis added):

In the light of these considerations, 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 clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience. Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. 

Pelosi throws “sacred” sand in reporters’ eyes during press conference

At a June 13 press conference. House Minority Leader (and ex-Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was asked a fairly straightforward question: “What is the moral difference between what Dr. Gosnell did to a baby born alive at 23 weeks and aborting her moments before birth?” Her reply, captured by C-SPAN, almost defies belief.

This comes during consideration of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a federal bill to ban late-term abortions. Pro-life activists are not unanimous in their support of the measure, with a valid concern that such bills indirectly make abortion “okay” as long as the victim exhibits no pain response. For the moment, see the bill for what it is meant to be: the Kermit Gosnell Prevention Act. No late-term abortions should mean no “failed” late-term abortions and therefore no infanticide.

So will Pelosi support the bill? No. “It would make it a federal law that there would be no abortion in our country,” she said. That’s false, by the way. Her backup position, recorded by C-SPAN for all the world to hear, is that this is a “sacred” matter that doesn’t belong in “politics.”

Let’s go all the way back to March 22 of this year, the day before the third anniversary of Obamacare. As Speaker of the House in 2010, Pelosi was instrumental in securing the votes that ensured passage. This year, she marked the anniversary with a statement  saying in part, “Today, we mark nearly three years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law – enacting a measure that stays true to our core values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans” [emphasis added].  I’ll take the liberty of believing that Rep. Pelosi holds “core values” to be sacred. Apparently, she thinks some sacred things are worth bringing into the political realm and forming into policy.

It’s possible that Pelosi mentioned her Catholicism as shorthand for “the nature of the fetus is a religious belief for me, so I can’t make policy about it.” That’s the embarrassing outcome when a member of Congress mistakenly believes that the Constitution demands separation of faith from life. Seriously, though, if Pelosi were to recuse herself from every debate and vote that touched on a matter of Catholic belief, she’d only need to spend about ten hours a week in Washington.

“Sacred” has never sounded so shabby.

Memo to the President: Mandate 2.0 is still a failure

Dear President Obama,

I see that your Administration has just issued new rules in an attempt to appease me and all the other Americans who have concerns about your mandatory-contraception coverage. The formal fact sheet describing these rules says that you are accepting feedback through April 5. Perhaps something new will come up within the next two months, but I already have plenty of “feedback” for your consideration.

Your HHS Mandate, so called because the Department of Health and Human Services is implementing your “Patient Protection and Affordable Care” Act, rested on your conclusion that it was a matter of public health for women to be rendered chemically or surgically sterile for most of their reproductive years. This was so important to you, in fact, that you approved calling such practices “preventive” and making them available with no co-pay.

You cited advisors at the “Institute of Medicine” who concluded that it is much cheaper for women to be chemically altered than to have babies. Sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs made it into the Mandate as well. No corresponding concern for the cost savings attendant upon male contraception and sterilization made it into your guidelines for “preventive” services.

So, here’s my first concern as I contemplate your new rules: Your contempt for my religion still permeates your health care plan. It is a matter of deep religious belief for me that fertility is a gift, to be regulated by means consistent with human dignity, and at no point considered to be a public health problem. And if you call contraception “preventive,” then you are calling fertility a problem.

Second concern: Women aren’t broken and they don’t need fixing. If only you hadn’t called contraception for women a “preventive” service, we wouldn’t need to have this conversation. How ironic that an Administration that has claimed “being a woman shouldn’t be a pre-existing condition” has codified precisely the opposite.

Since contraception is a direct violation of Catholic teaching, the Mandate hit home for all the Catholic bishops in the United States. They spoke out with one voice. This is no small matter, since many people depend on Catholic churches and schools for employment and insurance coverage. Soon after the bishops cast a glaring light on the religious-liberty violation inherent in the Mandate, representatives of other faiths spoke up with the same concerns.

It took you several months, but your Administration started carving out exemptions. At first, your Mandate restricted the definition of exempt religious institutions to those that primarily serve people of that particular faith. Hospitals and schools that didn’t screen users for religious conformity didn’t count. You were quite justly criticized for attempting to tell the American people what a “religious institution” looked like.

Today’s new regulations appear to address that, sorta kinda. Instead of one executive agency (HHS) deciding what’s religious, you are turning the matter over to another executive agency, the IRS, that has been making that determination for years. The new regs also exempt non-profit religious organizations that meet four criteria, or jump through four hoops, to the satisfaction of whatever agency is going to implement this whole policy. Seldom do the American people have cause to be glad the IRS is going to define religion, but at least by bringing the tax people into it, you are making an effort at consistency.

But what about individuals? What about groups that do not hold themselves out to be “religious” but are nonetheless animated by a respect for life that makes the Mandate abhorrent to them? What about a business owner – someone who owns a hobby store, as an example – who has religious objections to providing contraception and abortion-inducing drugs by way of employee health insurance?

Third concern: Individuals have religious liberty AND conscience protection under our Constitution, and those protections are not forfeited when individuals form groups or run businesses. 

Mr. President, maybe your own conscience dictates that contracepted women are good for public health, quite apart from what the Institute of Medicine tells you. Even so, your Mandate fails as valid public policy. Today’s rules might render moot some of the court challenges to the Mandate, but not all. It appears that your Administration will have to defend the proposition that in the name of public health, the First Amendment does not apply to individuals. That’s a tall order.

You could have avoided all this simply by declining to classify women’s induced infertility as a “preventive service.” You could have left alone the co-payments for contraception. Since you acted as you did, and since you are sticking to that, there is no way I can support the Mandate. I will do everything in my power to support legal efforts to overturn it.

With all due respect,

Ellen Kolb