Important Update: Archdiocese of Washington Files Comments with HHS & a Motion for Summary Reversal Read More.
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The Mandate War

By George WeigelThe National Review
Posted on: Monday, May 21st, 2012

At stake is nothing less than the future of civil society in the United States.

The battle for religious freedom between the Catholic Church in the United States and the Obama administration just entered the second quarter.

The first quarter was bureaucratic and rhetorical. The debate began with the January 20 announcement that the administration’s implementation of Obamacare would require Catholic institutions and individual Catholic employers to provide “preventive health services” (including contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs) that the Church rejects as gravely immoral. It was a clumsy attempt at coercing consciences, and it drew widespread condemnation across the spectrum of Catholic opinion.

The debate intensified after the administration announced, on February 10, a future “accommodation” of Catholic concerns; but the proposed “accommodation” was an accounting shell game that would change absolutely nothing in either the moral or the legal structure of the issue. Showing a remarkable degree of unanimity, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops rejected the “accommodation” at its March meeting and insisted that the issue at stake was not birth control, but religious freedom: The federal government was trying to compel the Church and individual Catholic believers to do something the Church’s settled teaching considers immoral. That same point was underscored a month later by the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty in its Easter-week statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.”

Throughout the first quarter of this deadly serious game, the administration did not move a millimeter, the claims of its flacks and some of its Catholic apologists notwithstanding. The “contraceptive mandate” (which, remember, is also a sterilization and abortifacient mandate) is now law, without any “accommodation.” The administration continues to insist on provision of the services in question; it continues to define a “religious exemption” that is so stringent that it is not clear whether any Catholic entity (or Orthodox Jewish entity, or Mormon entity) would qualify; its narrow definition of “religious ministry” puts the Church in legal and financial peril for serving people who are not Catholics, which is another requirement of the Catholic conscience.

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About Preserve Religious Freedom

This lawsuit is about religious freedom and our ability to serve the public, not about contraception. The Church maintains that the First Amendment protects the Catholic Church's ability to serve the public in accordance with its faith and to operate its religious institutions without government interference. The argument challenges the way the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defines what is, and is not, a religious institution. By including an exemption at all, the government apparently agrees that, in keeping with decades of practice and precedent, religious institutions should not be compelled to purchase drugs or procedures that violate deeply held religious or moral beliefs.

But, the Administration's HHS mandate defines religious ministry so narrowly that religious schools, hospitals, and social services don't qualify as religious, and must therefore provide these drugs and procedures. This violates the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom. It forces religious organizations to sacrifice their beliefs in order to be able to continue their mission of serving the public. Read more about the plaintiffs filing this lawsuit here.

Preserve Religious Freedom
c/o Archdiocese of Washington
P.O. Box 29260
Washington, DC 20017-0260

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