Round two of the health mandate war

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The battle for religious freedom between the Catholic Church in the United States and the Obama administration just entered the second quarter, writes George Weigel in Ethics and Public Policy Centre.

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, sterilisation, and abortion 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.

But the debate is not only about religious institutions; it is about the rights of conscience of employers (Catholic or otherwise) whose convictions require them not to include contraceptives, abortion drugs, and sterilisations in the health-insurance coverage they provide their employees.

FULL STORY The Mandate war (Ethics and Public Policy Centre)

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