Mar 31

It’s not really news anymore that signup for healthcare as promised and touted by the president has hit another glitch. But that it did on deadline day generated at least some headlines.

Like Politico’s. The bottom line is more the story than the body of the story.

Public opinion polls have shown many Americans are still opposed to the law. A new Washington Post-ABC poll released Monday showed approval rising slightly, with 49 in favor and 48 opposed, but many other surveys have found more skepticism.

So, fair assessment is that we’re about evenly split over Obamacare. Allegedly.

The issues I have with it relate to life, true healthcare coverage and accessibility, and conscience rights, as regular readers here know. Those have been highlighted in the HHS mandate lawsuits over the past two years.

Here’s another detailed rundown of what’s wrong with the Affordable Care Act, which few people have actually read.

Once the Affordable Care Act became law in March 2010, the two chambers of Congress have held diametrically opposed views. The House, under Republican control since 2011, has voted many times to repeal the entire act; the Democratic-controlled Senate has resisted changes.

The Catholic bishops’ conference has not joined in either agenda. Supporters of national efforts to achieve universal health coverage for almost a century, the bishops have urged specific reforms in accord with the moral principles they articulated during consideration of the A.C.A. The bishops support basic, life-affirming health coverage for everyone, including immigrants; compliance with longstanding federal policies on abortion funding; and respect for rights of conscience.

The A.C.A. remains deficient in these areas. The bishops have urged Congress to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, including reform of the way our health laws treat immigrant families. On abortion issues—both federal funding and conscience rights—the implementation of the A.C.A. over four years has brought its defects into sharper focus.

One barrier to progress on the act’s problems regarding abortion is that many, including some Catholics, are confused about those problems or deny that they exist. Here, then, are the abortion-related problems the bishops’ conference finds in the A.C.A.

Click on that link.  Read the article. Rich Doerflinger counts the ways.

1) Under existing federal jurisprudence, federal funds appropriated by the A.C.A. are available for elective abortions.

He doesn’t just make the claim, he backs it up. Do read on, especially about the protections put in place and upheld for decades under the Hyde Amendment. It’s very instructive.

2) The act violates the policy of all other federal health programs by using federal funds for health plans covering elective abortions.

Here’s just a snip from that section:

The A.C.A. forbids insurers to inform consumers about their abortion coverage except as part of the long list of benefits provided to those already enrolling. It also forbids them to reveal how much of the enrollee’s premium will go into the separate account for abortions. Thus a common impression that enrollees will write a “separate check” for abortion, which pro-life dissenters might try refusing to sign, is apparently false—the funds are separated at the insurer’s end. Some states have said that every health plan on their exchange will cover elective abortions.

This is troubling in light of polling commissioned by the bishops’ conference during consideration of the A.C.A. Most survey respondents opposed measures that require Americans to support abortion with their tax dollars or their premiums; 68 percent said that if the choice were theirs they would not want abortion in their health coverage. On each question, women gave stronger pro-life responses than men. The majority of American women who oppose abortion coverage will now often face a sad dilemma: Either pay for abortions anyway or have greatly reduced options when looking for a health plan to meet their families’ needs.

Next:

3) The A.C.A. lacks important conscience protections.

Most of this is contained within the HHS mandate, a ‘birth control delivery scheme’ objected to by a great number of Americans for many reasons, most enumerated in those lawsuits linked above. But note this, which isn’t well known (along with most everything else in Doerflinger’s article):

More broadly, the final version of the A.C.A. deleted an important conscience provision from the original House-passed bill, which incorporated the Hyde/Weldon Amendment that has been part of Labor/H.H.S. appropriations bills since 2004. That law withholds Labor/H.H.S. funds from a federal agency or program or a state or local government that discriminates against health care entities that refuse to provide, refer for, pay for or provide coverage of abortion. Like the Hyde Amendment on funding, the Hyde/Weldon policy on conscience does not govern funds appropriated by the A.C.A.

And then:

4) Finally, it has been said that federal judges in Virginia and Ohio have ruled there is no abortion funding in the A.C.A. That is not quite true.

He explains. And then, the bottom line:

The great majority of American men and women do not want to support abortion with their taxes or health premiums. A recent poll of obstetrician-gynecologists showed that only 14 percent perform abortions, and the latest abortion statistics show abortion rates and the number of abortion providers at their lowest since 1973. To all but the most committed enthusiasts for abortion, that tipping point cannot arrive too soon.

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Jul 05

What will Independence Day 2013 look like in America?

That thought crossed my mind in the middle of the day, seeing coverage of both celebrations of the Fourth across the country and deliberations of the ObamaCare ruling across the news networks. I’ve been traveling a lot lately and maybe it’s a good thing not to try keeping pace with the onslaught of analysis pouring out over the past week of what Chief Justice John Roberts might have been thinking when he issued the decisive and historic opinion in upholding ObamaCare as constitutional, as a tax. Especially in its implications for the integrity of the Supreme Court.

Had a majority of the justices struck down Obamacare, the court — fairly or unfairly — would have become a bigger issue in the presidential campaign than usual and in ways that could have been damaging to its authority.

Everything has become political. Even the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

Americans know that the Declaration of Independence proclaims as a matter of fact that they “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But when Obama recites this line, he omits the word “Creator.”

Listen carefully to how Obama censors that famous line. Here are his own words: “all men are created equal, that each of us are endowed with certain inalienable rights.” He doesn’t say who endowed us.

Obama has done this so often that it can’t be a slip of the tongue or a glitch of the teleprompter. Changing the words of the Declaration of Independence is part of Obama’s determination to remove everything religious and every mention of God from every aspect of our public life in order to fundamentally transform us from “one nation under God” into one nation under the Federal Government, especially the executive branch, with no higher power recognized.

The US Bishops called the Fortnight for Freedom for that reason, and though the event closed with a liturgy and addresses on Independence Day, it really served as a rocket booster to propel the movement to defend constitutional liberties forward.

No government should tell religious organizations either what to believe or how to put their beliefs into practice. We indeed hold this to be an unalienable, constitutional right. If freedom of religion is a constitutional value to be protected, then institutions developed by religious groups to implement their core beliefs in education, in care for the sick or suffering, and in other tasks must also be protected. Only by doing so can the free exercise of religion have any meaning.

This is a year of historic consequence in America. The president, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, elected representatives of the republic and citizens who may have taken liberty for granted all have a new – and very different – stake in it.

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Jun 24

Never have the US bishops been so unified and fully engaged over one issue in this nation. But the HHS mandate was the bridge too far in this administration’s push to expand its control over the nation and its citizens. ‘It put our usual work on steroids’, one bishop told me on radio. It also ramped up the nation’s Catholics and their involvement in public policy like nothing has since the civil rights movement.

Some Catholics complain that it took this long for the bishops to engage crucial social policy battles and ask where they were when this or that happened, naming any number of issues. But they are here and now, an impressive force, and they’re gathering momentum and strength. If unpaid bills of the past have come due now, they are being reckoned with at present.

The Fortnight for Freedoom has begun. Because freedom is under siege.

What are the bishops up to with this “great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty”? In keeping with their responsibilities as shepherds of the faith, they are calling their people—and anyone else who pays heed—to a heightened awareness of the centrality of religious freedom for any civilized society that claims to recognize the equal dignity of human beings.

But why now? Why should the bishops pick this season for a campaign of public education and advocacy on the subject of religious liberty? For religious-freedom watchers, that’s an easy question to answer. Under President Obama, religious freedom has been directly attacked when it has not been simply neglected or disregarded.

Count the ways. Several are listed there.

The Obama administration, especially with its HHS mandate, poses the largest and most immediate threat to religious freedom in America today. But in the Easter week statement of their Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” the bishops also notice other threats to which we should be alert. Among them are ill-considered state laws on immigration that would make it illegal for churches to assist poor people, or even celebrate the sacraments with them, if they are illegal immigrants…

In short, the defense of religious freedom is more needed now than it has been for many years, and the confrontations between freedom and authority run deeply through layers of other political debates, over sexuality, marriage, health-care policy, discrimination law, humanitarian relief, and foreign affairs. New confrontations are bound to occur as long as our political system fails to restore and preserve a proper understanding of religious freedom.

Such a restorative effort is the purpose of the Fortnight for Freedom. As Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, said at the bishops’ annual conference in Atlanta on June 13, the Fortnight “is not about parties, candidates, or elections . . . it is about the issue of religious freedom.” Religious freedom knows no party. The bishops are responding to an aggressive secularism that happens to be led by a Democratic administration. “Responding” is the key word here, for the bishops are not starting a fight, but neither are they backing away from one.

Right on.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, author of Render Unto Caesar among other credits, says religious liberty is “an urgent concern” at this moment in US history, and sums up the issue “in five simple points.”

First, religious freedom is a cornerstone of the American experience. This is so obvious that once upon a time, nobody needed to say it. But times have changed. So it’s worth recalling that Madison, Adams, Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, Jefferson–in fact, nearly all the American founders–saw religious faith as vital to the life of a free people. Liberty and happiness grow organically out of virtue. And virtue needs grounding in religious faith…

Here’s my second point: Freedom of religion is more than freedom of worship. The right to worship is a necessary but not sufficient part of religious liberty. Christian faith requires community. It begins in worship, but it also demands preaching, teaching, and service. It’s always personal but never private. And it involves more than prayer at home and Mass on Sunday–though these things are vitally important. Real faith always bears fruit in public witness and public action. Otherwise it’s just empty words.

The founders saw the value of publicly engaged religious faith because they experienced its influence themselves. They created a nation designed in advance to depend on the moral convictions of religious believers, and to welcome their active role in public life.

Here’s my third point: Threats against religious freedom in our country are not imaginary. They’re happening right now. They’re immediate, serious, and real. Earlier this year religious liberty advocates won a big Supreme Court victory in the 9-0 Hosanna-Tabor v EEOC decision. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: What’s stunning in that case is the disregard for religious freedom shown by the government’s arguments against the Lutheran church and school.

And Hosanna-Tabor is not an isolated case. It belongs to a pattern of government coercion that includes the current administration’s HHS mandate; interfering with the conscience rights of medical providers and private employers, as well as individual citizens; and attacks on the policies, hiring practices, and tax statuses of religious charities and ministries.

It’s amazing that about 11 days after the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Hosanna-Tabor that government has no right to define religious ministry, the government announced the HHS mandate.

Here’s my fourth point: Unless we work hard to keep our religious liberty, we’ll lose it. It’s already happening in other developed countries like Britain and Canada. The U.S. Constitution is a great document–historically unique for its fusion of high ideals with the realism of very practical checks and balances. But in the end, it’s just an elegant piece of paper. In practice, nothing guarantees our freedoms except our willingness to fight for them. That means fighting politically and through the courts, without tiring and without apologies.

That’s certainly happening now.

Here’s my fifth and final point: Politics and the courts are important. But our religious freedom ultimately depends on the vividness of our own Christian faith–in other words, how deeply we believe it, and how honestly we live it. Religious liberty is an empty shell if the spiritual core of a people is weak. Or to put it more bluntly, if people don’t believe in God, religious liberty isn’t a value. That’s the heart of the matter…

Religious liberty isn’t a privilege granted by the state. It’s our birthright as children of God. And even the worst bigotry can’t kill it in the face of a believing people. But if we value it and want to keep it, then we need to become people worthy of it. Which means we need to change the way we live–radically change, both as individual Catholics and as the Church.

Great message. Read the whole thing. And the other links. This is not going to end on the Fourth of July.

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Jun 21

Sr. Carol Keehan and the very large Catholic Health Association network were instrumental in helping President Obama get the contentious health care overhaul passed. But his HHS mandate issued in January was a push too far, and they objected along with all the Catholic bishops. His alleged accomodation to their concerns got Sr. Keehan and the HHS back on board and gave him Catholic cover. Now, the CHA has reversed itself again. Like everyone who looked fully at the so-called ‘accommodation’ they saw that it wasn’t one.

I wrote the above a few days ago but had to save it as a draft while traveling, and wound up unable to blog for a while, with little access to the internet. Given past experiences with Sr. Keehan, I wasn’t sure it would even still be accurate or rather, reversed again at this point.

As of the moment, it still holds that this major health provider, a critical Catholic ally for the president, is publicly calling the HHS mandate unacceptable. Rocco Palmo has all the lowdown here, including part of the letter the CHA sent the federal department of HHS.

Here’s a key snip from Rocco’s post:

Today’s letter was signed by Keehan and CHA’s immediate past and present board chairs.

Previously, CHA supported the passage of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act over the bishops’ objections to the law’s treatment of funding coverage for abortions. In appreciation for the role the association’s campaign played in the bill’s enactment, President Obama famously gave Keehan one of the pens he used to sign the sweeping Federal health-care reform into law.

On the initial announcement of the contraceptive policy in January, however, the CHA president backed the bishops, calling the White House proposal “a missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection.”

In the wake of that statement, even the New York Times noted that the administration’s subsequent undertaking to find an agreeable middle ground “was for” Keehan, who “had told the White House that” as originally proposed, “the new rule… went too far.”

That sentence is especially key, because Obama may be relying on ‘the Catholic Left’ again. And as the WSJ’s Bill McGurn pointed out the week the mandate was issued, he has offended them. It has remained very relevant, and is worth reading again now.

I have interviewed many radio guests on any number of angles on this mandate and its ramifications, including political, and when it comes to the question of ‘the Catholic vote’ this year, they mostly speculate that Obama is losing that part of his formerly supportive base, though it’s hard to guage. Given Sr. Keehan’s and the CHA’s reversal, it may get clearer soon.

Especially with nation’s Catholics largely engaged in the US bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom. More on that next time…

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Apr 29

Until they don’t. Depends on the issue.

But it’s interesting to juxtapose reactions to the US bishops speaking out on different issues.

Like former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s flip-flopping (popular term in politics) from wanting the bishops to stay out of politics when it comes to matters of faith and morals and Catholic politicians, to wanting the bishops to speak from the pulpit actively engaging Catholics to support a measure she backed and felt they should, too. That time, it was immigration reform.

But a big talking point for liberal Catholic Democrats in Congress who disagree with Church teaching and vote for measures according to their own lights, is the primacy of conscience.

Which the Vatican took up as the focus of a conference on the whole issue of conscience, after it got batted about with no small amount of confusion.

So because these legislators have so emphatically insisted on the preeminent primacy of conscience, I’m wondering why the the legislation authored by Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Respect for Rights of Conscience Act failed in the Senate as the Blunt-Fortenberry bill, and why it’s not getting more support in the House.

“We have come together to say it’s time to act to protect Americans’ most basic rights – our religious freedom and rights of conscience,” Fortenberry said. “I am very pleased to stand with House and Senate colleagues of both parties to call for swift action on this bill.” 

Yes, it’s bipartisan. It’s about the fundamental human right to conscience protection. But it’s received no primacy of attention, or any at all, from those liberal Catholic politicians and precious little from moderates and even conservatives. Because it’s political kryptonite for ambitious senators and congressmen.

In early March, Cong. Fortenberry told me he had 220 co-sponsors and he was hopeful more members of Congress would sign on since the recently announced HHS mandate posed unprecedented federal threats to conscience rights and religious liberty. Last week, Cong. Fortenberry told me he has 224 co-sponsors. That’s shameful, for a lot of people.

The bishops are speaking out alright, more unified than they’ve ever been before. This is their Magna Carta.

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Mar 01

I could write an extemporaenous dissertation on the political race and the human race, class acts and class warfare, and the politicization of everything including morals and the natural law and constitutional liberties never before threatened by government. But I won’t.

People have asked me who I support for the GOP nomination and I answer ‘I don’t know’ not to avoid commitment or engagement (I’m always ready to engage ideas) but because, like many commentators and scholars and analysts and observers with far more intelligence than I dare claim, I do not know who the best candidate would be. But I’m willing to state the belief that any of the four candidates seeking the GOP nomination would be far more respectful of basic rights and liberties and the sanctity and dignity of human life than the current officeholder they seek to replace. That sounds like an editorial comment but is at least as much an account of factual record.

Mr. Obama has his points of merit on certain particular issues, on rhetorical skill and for some on personal likeability, though the election of a president is of far more consequence than that.

So let’s be clear on what’s at stake here. What got little to no attention in the 2008 election is, for starters, Mr. Obama’s voting record in the Illinois Senate. I talked and wrote about it, but now it’s coming more to light.

The nation’s number one talk show host drew attention to Barack Obama’s history of supporting infanticide on Friday’s show.

Discussing this week’s CNN debate in Mesa, Arizona, Rush Limbaugh told his listeners said the president’s vote against the Illinois version of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act in 2001, 2002, and 2003 amounted to “the most shocking and underreported significant story I can ever remember.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich raised the issue of Obama’s support for infanticide after CNN debate moderator John King asked the presidential hopefuls a question about birth control.

The question met with loud audience disapproval, as it was widely interpreted as intended to embarrass Rick Santorum.

Gingrich, who replied first, objected that in 2008, “not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.

“If we’re going to have a debate about who the extremist is on these issues, it is President Obama who, as a state senator, voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion,” Gingrich said. “It is not the Republicans.”

True. And astounding in its direct analogy to the Dred Scott decision. Obama said that granting protections to infants (though he used the term ‘fetuses’) would make abortion illegal, and he couldn’t do that. But that’s the same argument used against granting protection of human rights to slaves under the Constitution.

President Obama said he wouldn’t want his daugheters ‘punished with a baby’ if they made ‘a mistake,’ whichs till rings in the ears of Americans who recognize the sanctity of human life from conception of human life.

His administration’s HHS mandate is so radical, it has precipitated a broad backlash

I find it unconscionable that a president, who just days previously had made it clear that he would mandate that religious organizations violate their consciences, stood before hundreds at the National Prayer Breakfast and said (1) that he is a Christian, and (2) that somehow the teachings of holy scripture in general and, in particular, Jesus’ teaching in the gospels, have a direct correlation to his presidency and moreover to the mandates he has put into place (whether healthcare-related, economic, or otherwise). Simply put, it is hard to see how Mr. Obama can mandate a violation of conscience one day, and say the following with a straight face just days later, while remaining an honest man:

It’s also about the biblical call to care for the least of these–for the poor; for those at the margins of our society. To answer the responsibility we’re given in Proverbs to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”…Treating others as you want to be treated.

Who is speaking up for the children who will lose their lives because of the HHS mandate? Who is speaking up for the mothers who, under HHS mandate, have been falsely coerced into feeling that to be a woman means to have “control” of their own bodies? Who is speaking up for the multitude of physicians who refuse to give out death-inducing prescriptions and, in turn, are ridiculed or even discriminated because of it? Those folks are the “least of these” of which Jesus speaks. To the president, however, they are nobodies.

And it continues…

Predictably, the move has drawn fire from the Catholic bishops.

Less predictable—and far more interesting—has been the heat from the Catholic left, including many who have in the past given the president vital cover. In a post for the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters minces few words. Under the headline “J’ACCUSE,” he rightly takes the president to the woodshed for the politics of the decision, for the substance, and for how “shamefully” it treats “those Catholics who went out on a limb” for him.

The message Mr. Obama is sending, says Mr. Winters, is “that there is no room in this great country of ours for the institutions our Church has built over the years to be Catholic in ways that are important to us.”

Mr. Winters is not alone. The liberal Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, blogged that he “cannot imagine a more direct and frontal attack on freedom of conscience”—and he urged people to fight it. Another liberal favorite, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., has raised the specter of “civil disobedience” and vowed that he will drop coverage for diocesan workers rather than comply. They are joined in their expressions of discontent by the leaders of Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities, which alone employs 70,000 people.

Time to change politics as usual.

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Jan 31

He won election with a slim majority of Catholic voters because enough progressives believed his policies aligned with social justice mandates of the Gospel. He just lost them with a mandate of his own.

The case his Department of Justice took before the Supreme Court was an audacious opening salvo. Now, his administration has launched an all-out assault on the church and believers and sympathizers.

Of the barrage of columns and articles and blog posts and commentaries on this, there are a few that stand out starkly for saying Obama’s Left Catholics. They deserve attention.

Ross Douthat in the New York Times:

When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good. Unlike most communal organizations, the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals…

Sometimes this crowding out happens gradually, subtly, indirectly. Every tax dollar the government takes is a dollar that can’t go to charities and churches. Every program the government runs, from education to health care to the welfare office, can easily become a kind of taxpayer-backed monopoly.

But sometimes the state goes further. Not content with crowding out alternative forms of common effort, it presents its rivals an impossible choice: Play by our rules, even if it means violating the moral ideals that inspired your efforts in the first place, or get out of the community-building business entirely.

This is exactly the choice that the White House has decided to offer a host of religious institutions — hospitals, schools and charities — in the era of Obamacare. The new health care law requires that all employer-provided insurance plans cover contraception, sterilization and the morning-after (or week-after) pill known as ella, which can work as an abortifacient. A number of religious groups, led by the American Catholic bishops, had requested an exemption for plans purchased by their institutions. Instead, the White House has settled on an exemption that only covers religious institutions that primarily serve members of their own faith.

Which absolutely everyone except HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius knows is not an exemption at all, nor even a fig leaf. It’s a sham.

The regulations are a particularly cruel betrayal of Catholic Democrats, many of whom had defended the health care law as an admirable fulfillment of Catholicism’s emphasis on social justice. Now they find that their government’s communitarianism leaves no room for their church’s communitarianism, and threatens to regulate it out of existence.

Critics of the administration’s policy are framing this as a religious liberty issue, and rightly so. But what’s at stake here is bigger even than religious freedom. The Obama White House’s decision is a threat to any kind of voluntary community that doesn’t share the moral sensibilities of whichever party controls the health care bureaucracy.

The Catholic Church’s position on contraception is not widely appreciated, to put it mildly, and many liberals are inclined to see the White House’s decision as a blow for the progressive cause. They should think again. Once claimed, such powers tend to be used in ways that nobody quite anticipated, and the logic behind these regulations could be applied in equally punitive ways by administrations with very different values from this one.

This is exceptionally keen insight on this ominous affront to sensibilities. Not to mention constitutionally protected liberties.

Michael Gerson in the Washington Post.

Catholic leaders are still trying to process the implications of this ambush. The president had every opportunity to back down from confrontation. In the recent ­Hosanna-Tabor ruling, a unanimous Supreme Court reaffirmed a broad religious autonomy right rooted in the Constitution. Obama could have taken the decision as justification for retreat.

And it would have been a minor retreat. The administration was on the verge of mandating nearly universal contraceptive coverage through Obamacare without public notice. There would have been no controversy at all if President Obama had simply exempted religious institutions and ministries. But the administration insisted that the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s Hospital be forced to pay for the privilege of violating their convictions.

Obama chose to substantially burden a religious belief, by the most intrusive means, for a less-than-compelling state purpose — a marginal increase in access to contraceptives that are easily available elsewhere. The religious exemption granted by Obamacare is narrower than anywhere else in federal law — essentially covering the delivery of homilies and the distribution of sacraments. Serving the poor and healing the sick are regarded as secular pursuits — a determination that would have surprised Christianity’s founder.

That’s not at all a stretch. As many have pointed out, this so-called ‘exemption’ wouldn’t even apply to Jesus.

But Gerson gets even more scathing.

Both radicalism and maliciousness are at work in Obama’s decision — an edict delivered with a sneer. It is the most transparently anti-Catholic maneuver by the federal government since the Blaine Amendment was proposed in 1875…

The implications of Obama’s choice will take years to sort through. The immediate impact can be measured on three men:

Consider Catholicism’s most prominent academic leader, the Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame. Jenkins took a serious risk in sponsoring Obama’s 2009 honorary degree and commencement address — which promised a “sensible” approach to the conscience clause. Jenkins now complains, “This is not the kind of ‘sensible’ approach the president had in mind when he spoke here.” Obama has made Jenkins — and other progressive Catholic allies — look easily duped.

Consider Catholicism’s highest-ranking elected official, Vice President Biden. Biden had encouraged engagement with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on conscience rights. Now he will be remembered as the Catholic cover for the violation of Catholic conscience. Betrayal is always an inside job.

Consider Catholicism’s most prominent clerical leader, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, head of the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Dolan had pursued a policy of engagement with the administration. In November, he met face to face with Obama, who was earnestly reassuring on conscience protections. On Jan. 20, during a less-cordial phone conversation, Obama informed Dolan that no substantial concession had been made. How can Dolan make the argument for engagement now?

The implications of Obama’s power grab go further than contraception and will provoke opposition beyond Catholicism. Christian colleges and universities of various denominations will resist providing insurance coverage for abortifacients. And the astounding ambition of this federal precedent will soon be apparent to every religious institution. Obama is claiming the executive authority to determine which missions of believers are religious and which are not — and then to aggressively regulate institutions the government declares to be secular. It is a view of religious liberty so narrow and privatized that it barely covers the space between a believer’s ears.

It is a deservedly blistering analysis, in the end.

The administration’s ultimate motivation is uncertain. Has it adopted a radical secularism out of conviction, or is it cynically appealing to radical secularists? In either case, the war on religion is now formally declared.

But it has produced a perhaps-not-foreseen upshot. Already.

Elizabeth Scalia explains.

With the administration’s decision, the covert culture of death has finally made a truly overt move against the culture of life. On one side, there is cheering. “Women’s groups” are happy. Anti-religionists, particularly those with an animus toward the Catholic church, are nearly delirious. On the other side, there is a grimness that is interesting in its unity, particularly as it is playing out in Catholic media. The furor of more conservative Catholics is unremarkable, but the reactions of the so-called “progressive” church may surprise some for the intensity of their disappointment. At the National Catholic Reporter Michael Sean Winters—furious on behalf of those Catholics who “took some punches” for the sake of President Obama—declares he cannot, in good conscience, cast another vote Obamaward. He now suggests that the bishops chain themselves to the White House fence in order to bring attention to the direct assault this administration is making against the church’s constitutional right to its own conscience—its right to be what it is.

Before anyone on the ‘right’ goes off blaming their left-leaning co-religionists who helped usher this administration into power, consider:

…the laity—divided for decades on issues ranging from felt-banners to dress to dogma—has found a line in the sand upon which they can come together; “conservative” Catholics are reassured to see their more “progressive” brethren defending the church’s right to be who and what she is; more “progressive” Catholics may be coming to realize that—as relentlessly single-minded as some of their opponents could be—had they not held the line all these years, much could be crumbling at this moment.

Now is the time for all good Catholics to come to the aid of providers—the schools, hospitals, charities, and soup kitchens who serve communities in need without asking affiliations. And, in coming together, perhaps now is the time to ponder their long-held presumptions, each about the other, and broaden our own outreach as well.

If nothing else, in declaring war against our consciences, the Obama administration has given American Catholics a great gift of clarification; a fractious family we may be, but—as the saying goes—we are church. And we have the right to be who we are.

By God.

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Jan 25

This was an extraordinary provocation.

On the day after Pope Benedict warned the church in America about unprecedented political and cultural threats to religious freedom, the Obama adminstration issued a mandate that will force religious institutions to comply with health care rules profoundly against their fundamental moral beliefs.

The ACLJ was already preparing briefs for the Supreme Court hearing on the Obama healthcare legislation, based on the individual mandate that required citizens to purchase something, by federal law, for the first time. Now, that mandate requires them to purchase something that violates their moral conscience.

Never before has an American president so openly and wantonly disregarded the religious civil liberties of so many.

Last Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would make final the rule mandating that insurance policies provide for contraceptive services, including sterilization, and drugs with an abortifacient mechanism of action.

With this rule, hundreds of religious colleges and hospitals, for example, will now be required –in fact, coerced — into providing insurance coverage for practices they believe to be morally wrong and violative of their religious beliefs. These institutions, which have educated citizens and cared for the infirm for hundreds of years, will now have to cave into the federal government or close their doors.

US Bishops conference president Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, responded time and again, Wednesday in an op-ed piece that ran in the WSJ and many of the nation’s larger newspapers.

Religious freedom is the lifeblood of the American people, the cornerstone of American government. When the Founding Fathers determined that the innate rights of men and women should be enshrined in our Constitution, they so esteemed religious liberty that they made it the first freedom in the Bill of Rights.

In particular, the Founding Fathers fiercely defended the right of conscience. George Washington himself declared: “The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them.” James Madison, a key defender of religious freedom and author of the First Amendment, said: “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.”

Scarcely two weeks ago, in its Hosanna-Tabor decision upholding the right of churches to make ministerial hiring decisions, the Supreme Court unanimously and enthusiastically reaffirmed these longstanding and foundational principles of religious freedom. The court made clear that they include the right of religious institutions to control their internal affairs.

Yet the Obama administration has veered in the opposite direction. It has refused to exempt religious institutions that serve the common good—including Catholic schools, charities and hospitals—from its sweeping new health-care mandate that requires employers to purchase contraception, including abortion-producing drugs, and sterilization coverage for their employees.

What readers from countries outside the US should understand for proper context, this is a radical departure from US law and custom.

Last August, when the administration first proposed this nationwide mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage, it also proposed a “religious employer” exemption. But this was so narrow that…even Jesus and His disciples would not qualify for the exemption in that case, because they were committed to serve those of other faiths.

Since then, hundreds of religious institutions, and hundreds of thousands of individual citizens, have raised their voices in principled opposition to this requirement that religious institutions and individuals violate their own basic moral teaching in their health plans. Certainly many of these good people and groups were Catholic, but many were Americans of other faiths, or no faith at all, who recognize that their beliefs could be next on the block. They also recognize that the cleverest way for the government to erode the broader principle of religious freedom is to target unpopular beliefs first.

Now we have learned that those loud and strong appeals were ignored. On Friday, the administration reaffirmed the mandate, and offered only a one-year delay in enforcement in some cases—as if we might suddenly be more willing to violate our consciences 12 months from now.

In one sweeping move, president Obama and his Catholic health secretary have succeeded in something no other groups or efforts or initatives or projects have been able to do: unite and galvanize Catholics on the right and left. It’s an amazing feat, really.

When Barack Obama secured his party’s nomination for president in 2008, one group of Democrats had special reason to cheer.

These were Democrats who were reliably liberal on policy but horrified by the party’s sometimes knee-jerk animosity to faith. The low point may have been the 1992 Democratic convention. There the liberal but pro-life governor of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey Sr., was humiliated when he was denied a speaking slot while a pro-choice Republican activist from his home state was allowed.

With Mr. Obama, all this looked to be in the past…And Mr. Obama would go on to capture a majority of the Catholic vote.

Now, suddenly, we have headlines about the president’s “war on the Catholic Church.” Mostly they stem from a Health and Human Services mandate that forces every employer to provide employees with health coverage that not only covers birth control and sterilization, but makes them free. Predictably, the move has drawn fire from the Catholic bishops.

Less predictable—and far more interesting—has been the heat from the Catholic left, including many who have in the past given the president vital cover. In a post for the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters minces few words. Under the headline “J’ACCUSE,” he rightly takes the president to the woodshed for the politics of the decision, for the substance, and for how “shamefully” it treats “those Catholics who went out on a limb” for him.

The message Mr. Obama is sending, says Mr. Winters, is “that there is no room in this great country of ours for the institutions our Church has built over the years to be Catholic in ways that are important to us.”

Mr. Winters is not alone. The liberal Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, blogged that he “cannot imagine a more direct and frontal attack on freedom of conscience”—and he urged people to fight it. Another liberal favorite, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., has raised the specter of “civil disobedience” and vowed that he will drop coverage for diocesan workers rather than comply. They are joined in their expressions of discontent by the leaders of Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities, which alone employs 70,000 people.

In the run-up to the ruling, the president of Notre Dame, the Rev. John Jenkins, suggested a modest compromise by which the president could have avoided most of this strife. That would have been by allowing the traditional exemption for religious organizations. That’s the same understanding two of the president’s own appointees to the Supreme Court just reaffirmed in a 9-0 ruling that recognized a faith-based school’s First Amendment right to choose its own ministers without government interference, regardless of antidiscrimination law.

A few years ago Father Jenkins took enormous grief when he invited President Obama to speak at a Notre Dame commencement; now Father Jenkins finds himself publicly disapproving of an “unnecessary government intervention” that puts many organizations such as his in an “untenable position.”

Here’s just part of what he means by “untenable”: Were Notre Dame to drop coverage for its 5,229 employees, the HHS penalty alone would amount to $10 million each year.

The irony, of course, is that the ruling is being imposed by a Catholic Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, working in an administration with a Catholic vice president, Joe Biden. A few years back the voluble Mr. Biden famously threatened to “shove my rosary beads” down the throat of those who dared suggest that his party’s positions on social issues put it at odds with people of faith. Does he now mean to include Mr. Winters, Cardinal Mahony and Father Jenkins?

Catholic liberals appreciate that this HHS decision is more than a return to the hostility that sent so many Catholic Democrats fleeing to the Republican Party these past few decades. They understand that if left to stand, this ruling threatens the religious institutions closest to their hearts—those serving Americans in need, such as hospitals, soup kitchens and immigrant services.

Conservatives may enjoy the problems this creates for Mr. Obama this election year. Still, for those who care about issues such as life and marriage and religious liberty that so roil our body politic, we ought to wish Catholic progressives well in their intra-liberal fight. For we shall never arrive at the consensus we hope for if we allow our politics to be divided between a party of faith and a party of animosity to faith.

Stay tuned. This is ramping up by the day.

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Jul 21

There’s a lot in the news about contraception and health care and Planned Parenthood right now. And a lot more that should be.

The scope of this is staggering.

Let’s go through just a few of the many stories.

Contraceptives are now recommended to be required in health care law.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is praising a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine that insurance companies be required to offer free contraceptives to all women in a report she called ” historic,” suggesting she may make the recommendation an official policy.

The prospect of free, government-ordered contraceptives and even agents to induce abortion, has ignited a national debate. Some are clearly pleased.

Many are clearly not.

After the Institute of Medicine (IOM) this week publicly backed government-mandated birth control coverage, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is standing in the breach against what would prove a massive victory for abortion giant Planned Parenthood…

“Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Tuesday.

Like other conservative leaders, the USCCB pro-life chairman noted that the mandate would violate the conscience rights of Americans morally opposed to birth control, and objected to coverage of “emergency contraception” such as ella, a chemical functionally identical to the abortion drug RU-486.

But the cardinal’s challenge did not stop there: DiNardo noted that the IOM report was so radical as to have indicated interest in recommending full abortion coverage as well. The report stated that, “despite the health and well-being benefits to some women,” abortion was outside of the project’s scope given federal legal restrictions.

“But most Americans surely see that abortion is not healthy or therapeutic for unborn children, and has physical and mental health risks for women which can be extremely serious,” wrote the cardinal, who noted the celebration of Planned Parenthood, “the single largest abortion provider in the United States,” over the report.

“I can only conclude that there is an ideology at work in these recommendations that goes beyond any objective assessment of the health needs of women and children,” he said.

That’s an understatement.

Let’s go back to some coverups by federal agencies for the abortion industry. Like this one that would have been called famous had it been reported by the media.

Though it did get reported.

Less than two months since the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force issued new guidelines recommending against routine mammograms for women in their forties, a second breast cancer scandal involving a U.S. government panel of experts has come to light which has implications for healthcare reform.

An April 2009 study by Jessica Dolle et al. of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center examining the relationship between oral contraceptives (OCs) and triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) in women under age 45 contained an admission from U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) researcher Louise Brinton and her colleagues (including Janet Daling) that abortion raises breast cancer risk by 40%.

(emphasis added)

“Although the study was published nine months ago,” observed Karen Malec, president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, “the NCI, the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and other cancer fundraising businesses have made no efforts to reduce breast cancer rates by issuing nationwide warnings to women.”

Brinton was the chief organizer of the 2003 NCI workshop on the abortion-breast cancer link, which falsely assured women that the non-existence of the link was “well established.”

(emphasis added)

Brinton has been out of reach of the media since the 2009 report that abortion raises breast cancer risk by 40 percent. Even liberal pro-choice writers checking on this incongruity have found the NCI website to only answer inquiries by linking back to the faulty and biased 2003 report.

The founders of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute have abundant resources on their site detailing the scientific studies and medical evidence linking contraceptives and abortion to breast cancer.

Which is why it’s crazy to think that the Susan G. Komen For the Cure Foundation would be linked in any way with Planned Parenthood. They ought to extend their considerable resources to researching prevention before a cure is necessary. But that would direct them back to Planned Parenthood…

Which is why some U.S. bishops have finally called on Catholic institutions to redirect their charitable contributions and fundraising for breast cancer prevention and cure to other organizations without any morally objectionable connections. Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair issued this letter, for instance. Here’s a snip:

For some time, moral questions have been raised from various quarters about the research funded by the Komen Foundation. The Bishops of Ohio have discussed this and have looked into the matter. As best we can determine, at present the Komen Foundation does not fund cancer research that employs embryonic stem cells. However, their policy does not exclude that possibility. They are open to embryonic stem cell research, and may very well fund such research in the future. They are also contributors to Planned Parenthood, which, though it may claim to provide needed medical services to poor women, is also the largest provider of abortions in our country.

But they got that way by being extremely industrious and aggressive in their lobbying and political activism. Which gets back to the top and latest news story in this cycle…

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