Nov 15

The general public and the media are finally dealing with the reality of Obamacare. Great numbers of Americans have a nearly two year jump on that process.

To recap what many people probably forgot, the infamous HHS mandate was announced in January 2012, a throwdown to faith based institutions and employers requiring them to either violate their consciences or pay a prohibitive penalty. It signaled the government’s disregard for Constitutional and federal law protecting religious freedom rights. And it triggered an almost immediate response of legal challenges to the administrations’ audacious breach of those rights.

To date, this unconstitutional mandate in Obamacare has racked up 77 court cases with over 200 plaintiffs bringing suit against the administration. Most of which has flown under radar while the press wasn’t paying attention and Americans were going about their business. Except for the Americans who couldn’t conduct their business any longer without violating their conscience and deeply held beliefs, or paying a punitive fine for refusing to do so.

In every case, the government’s attorneys have had to defend in court the indefensible, and they’re losing in some significant cases and getting admonished by some judges. Like last week’s decision by the 7th Circuit Court

that found the Obama administration’s abortion pill mandate to be in violation of federal religious liberty protections. The court called the administration’s argument that religious freedom disappears when doing business “unsound and extraordinary.”

That’s right. The administration’s attorneys argued that when people enter into business, they check their religious freedom rights at the door. Breathtaking, really.

“All Americans, including job creators, should be free to honor God and live according to their faith,” said Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, who argued before the 7th Circuit in May. “The court’s decision joins the majority of other rulings on the mandate, which have found it to excessively conflict with our nation’s guarantee of religious freedom to all Americans. The decision rightly foresees the dangers of allowing government to have this kind of power. If the government can force family business owners to act contrary to their deepest convictions under the threat of fining them out of business, it is a danger to everybody.”

Precisely. And that court said as much earlier in this case.

In January, the 7th Circuit issued an order in Grote Industries v. Sebelius that temporarily stopped enforcement of the mandate until appeals could be resolved.

“We hold that the plaintiffs–the business owners and their companies–may challenge the mandate. We further hold that compelling them to cover these services substantially burdens their religious exercise rights…,” the 7th Circuit’s decision states. “On the government’s understanding of religious liberty, a Jewish restaurant operating for profit could be denied the right to observe Kosher dietary restrictions. That cannot be right. There is nothing inherently incompatible between religious exercise and profit-seeking.”

I happened to plan Wednesday’s radio show this week as an update on the HHS mandate lawsuits, given all the news on that front lately while the rest of America has been focused on the other drastic consequences of Obamacare. Besides lead counsel Matt Bowman updating that 7th Circuit Court decision, I had Prof. Dwight Duncan on as a guest on constitutional law and the HHS mandate, the author of this article on religious freedom who most recently filed an amicus brief in the DC Circuit Gilardi decision that struck the mandate.

Prof. Duncan said it’s not up to judges and to government to decide if something violates Catholic moral teaching, it’s up to clergy and theologians to decide what’s moral, and that’s where the Religious Freedom Restoration Act kicks in. That federal, bi-partisan law passed under the presidency of Bill Clinton requires the government to prove a compelling interest in violating religious freedom rights, and that it’s going about it in the least restrictive means possible. This administration under this mandate can’t meet either of that two-pronged test.

The hour before the radio show went on the air Wednesday, the US bishops conference wrapped up their Fall meeting and released a ‘Special Message‘ on the HHS Mandate, reinforcing their commitment to defending and protecting religious freedom for institutions, employers and individuals in spite of government mandates that violate them. That statement played into discussions with both legal experts Matt Bowman and Dwight Duncan on the show that day.

But Thursday, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, chairman of the committee on religious liberty for the US bishops, took time to come on the radio show to talk about that statement on the HHS mandate.

Here’s part of what it said:

Yet with its coercive HHS mandate, the government is refusing to uphold its obligation to respect the rights of religious believers. Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.

Despite our repeated efforts to work and dialogue toward a solution, those problems remain. Not only does the mandate undermine our ministries’ ability to witness to our faith, which is their core mission, but the penalties it imposes also lay a great burden on those ministries, threatening their very ability to survive and to serve the many who rely on their care.

The current impasse is all the more frustrating because the Catholic Church has long been a leading provider of, and advocate for, accessible, life-affirming health care. We would have preferred to spend these recent past years working toward this shared goal instead of resisting this intrusion into our religious liberty. We have been forced to devote time and resources to a conflict we did not start nor seek.

As the government’s implementation of the mandate against us approaches, we bishops stand united in our resolve to resist this heavy burden and protect our religious freedom. Even as each bishop struggles to address the mandate, together we are striving to develop alternate avenues of response to this difficult situation. We seek to answer the Gospel call to serve our neighbors, meet our obligation to provide our people with just health insurance, protect our religious freedom, and not be coerced to violate our consciences. We remain grateful for the unity we share in this endeavor with Americans of all other faiths, and even with those of no faith at all. It is our hope that our ministries and lay faithful will be able to continue providing insurance in a manner consistent with the faith of our Church. We will continue our efforts in Congress and especially with the promising initiatives in the courts to protect the religious freedom that ensures our ability to fulfill the Gospel by serving the common good.

Here’s what Archbishop Lori said on my radio show. “We’re determined to continue our ministries according to the Gospel of our faith. This is an important message to send, and important to send it unanimously. The big problem with the HHS mandate is that it’s the government dividing up our ministries. If you’re serving the public, you have to play by rules other than your own. That’s a fundamental problem and a great burden on our religious liberty.

“I do believe we’ve raised a lot of awareness of a lot of Catholics, underneath there’s a ground shift in our ability to provide educational services, healing services. The government says we have to provide things that go against our beliefs and go against human dignity. It’s a difficult climate in Congress to get beyond the partisan labels. But we’re not coming at this from a partisan point of view, it’s fundamental.

“Since 1919, the bishops have been on this, saying accessible health care has been a really important thing for people everywhere. We have certainly have been willing and able to advance that everywhere. Our hospitals and health clinics do untold amounts of uncompensated health care every year. And in the pursuit of this very laudable goal, we find ourselves sidetracked by this mandate, absorbing our time, absorbing our resources, when in fact we would prefer to put that same time and energy into serving the poor and the needy.

“How ironic that when the government decides to do accessible health care it decides to put one of its staunchest allies in its sights. The Catholic Church is the largest provider of health care, social services and education.

“Here’s where Pope Francis is so beautiful, in many ways, but especially this. He says ‘bring the Gospel out of the four walls of the Church into the world. And that’s what we passionately believe we should be doing. We do it in health care, we do it in social services, we do it in education. But we’re being told that by doing that, we play by other rules, by government rules. We compete on contracts, but we compete on the basis of excellence. And just because we do this, doesn’t mean we have to surrender our faith.”

The bishops ended their ‘Special Message’ with this:

We seek to answer the Gospel call to serve our neighbors, meet our obligation to provide our people with just health insurance, protect our religious freedom, and not be coerced to violate our consciences. We remain grateful for the unity we share in this endeavor with Americans of all other faiths, and even with those of no faith at all. It is our hope that our ministries and lay faithful will be able to continue providing insurance in a manner consistent with the faith of our Church. We will continue our efforts in Congress and especially with the promising initiatives in the courts to protect the religious freedom that ensures our ability to fulfill the Gospel by serving the common good.

It’s just one of the fallouts of Obamacare, and the one long forgotten by some. But it has endured and will, in the effort of Americans committed to do good works informed by faith and moral principles in serving people in need, without coercion by government.

And by the way, this mandate is inevitably headed to the Supreme Court.

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May 21

He may have been counting on the controversy over the HHS mandate to blow over after a few months and changing news cycles passed. He may have counted on it continuing to simmer and making it an issue about ‘women’s preventive health services’ and contraception and the bogus ‘war on women.’ But he probably didn’t see this coming.

On Monday, 43 Catholic institutions joined a dozen lawsuits filed against the administration.

Some of the most influential Catholic institutions in the country filed suit against the Obama administration Monday over the so-called contraception mandate, in one of the biggest coordinated legal challenges to the rule to date.

Claiming their “fundamental rights hang in the balance,” a total of 43 plaintiffs filed a dozen separate federal lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the requirement. Among the organizations filing were the University of Notre Dame, the Archdiocese of New York and The Catholic University of America.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and president of the US bishops conference, released this statement:

“We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress – and we’ll keep at it – but there’s still no fix. Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now. Though the Conference is not a party to the lawsuits, we applaud this courageous action by so many individual dioceses, charities, hospitals and schools across the nation, in coordination with the law firm of Jones Day. It is also a compelling display of the unity of the Church in defense of religious liberty. It’s also a great show of the diversity of the Church’s ministries that serve the common good and that are jeopardized by the mandate – ministries to the poor, the sick, and the uneducated, to people of any faith or no faith at all.”

Notre Dame’s lawsuit is drawing a lot of attention. Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, said the lawsuit was not a war on a woman’s right to use contraception.

“Many of our faculty, staff and students — both Catholic and non-Catholic — have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives,” Jenkins said. “As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs. And we believe that, if the Government wishes to provide such services, means are available that do not compel religious organizations to serve as its agents.”

Others weighed in…

Franciscan University:

“Franciscan University’s mission is and always has been to teach from the heart of the Church,” said University President Father Terence Henry, TOR. “The Obama administration’s mandate is a grave threat to our ability to carry out that mission. It makes it impossible for us to operate freely as a Catholic institution without overbearing and invasive governmental interference.”

Archdiocese of Washington:

This lawsuit is about an unprecedented attack by the federal government on one of America’s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference. It is not about whether people have access to certain services; it is about whether the government may force religious institutions and individuals to facilitate and fund services which violate their religious beliefs.

These strong statements were echoed across the country in this well-coordinated legal challenge.

They won’t back down. And the ‘Catholic vote’ is shifting significantly this election year.

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Feb 16

He won the presidency by capturing slightly over half of the Catholic vote. He probably can’t count on that in the next election.

Back when he went to Notre Dame to deliver the commencement address, George Weigel made the prescient point that Obama walked into the Catholic divide and declared which side was authentic.

What was surprising, and ought to be disturbing to anyone who cares about religious freedom in these United States, was the president’s decision to insert himself into the ongoing Catholic debate over the boundaries of Catholic identity and the applicability of settled Catholic conviction in the public square. Obama did this by suggesting, not altogether subtly, who the real Catholics in America are.

He’s trying that again now, same methods perhaps expecting the same results. So he must have been surprised recently when it backfired in his mangling of the HHS mandate “accommodation” pathetically put forward in a press conference from the White House as a compromise to the US Bishops and Catholics and religious groups acting in solidarity to protect religious liberty.

The administration “shifted” on nothing. It simply decreed that insurers, not employers, must provide “preventive services” (including sterilization and abortifacient drugs), a shell game that has been variously and accurately described as a “fraud” (Andrew McCarthy, in the Corner) and an “absurdity” (the Wall Street Journal). More to the point, as Yuval Levin pointed out shortly after President Obama and HHS Secretary Sebelius announced their “accommodation,” the newly tweaked regulations “would not actually change the moral circumstances at issue in any way.”

So, Weigel says, Obama continues trying to divide and conquer Catholics, and in doing so, he’s misreading them.

Everyone understands, for example, that Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks for the Church in the United States in a singular way, especially when he speaks for a united bishops’ conference on matters of first principles.

Everyone, that is, but the Obama White House.

In his appearance on Fox News Sunday on February 12, White House chief of staff Jack Lew discussed with host Chris Wallace what the administration was determined to sell as an “accommodation” to Catholic concerns, an “accommodation” that tweaked an HHS mandate requiring that all health insurance provide no-co-pay abortifacients, sterilizations, and contraceptives. Lew tried, unsuccessfully, to shore up the administration’s pretense that something in the moral calculus of the original mandate had changed with the administration’s “accommodation” — which, of course, it hadn’t. What was truly striking about the administration spin, however, was Lew’s suggestion that the Catholic Health Association (whose president, Sister Carol Keehan, had quickly and publicly applauded the administration’s “accommodation”) trumped the bishops’ conference when it came to who-speaks-for-the-Catholic-Church-in-America.

It’s not going over well, except for Sr. Keehan and another high profile Catholic or two. That escaped no one’s notice paying close attention to this unprecedented challenge to people of faith.

[Obama's] brief statement was meant to get a hot story off the media front burners (a qualified success) and to telegraph to progressives that he wanted them back in the fold.

To that end, the White House seemed to have conferred not with the concerned Bishops but with members of the “Catholic Left” whose criticism of his original plans had had a weighty effect on others, and whose progressive credentials made their alliance vital to retain; he effectively went to Sr. Carol Keehan, President of the Catholic Health Association, and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, and sought imprimaturs that were not theirs to give, on what the press has taken to call (in apparent ignorance of the word’s meaning) his “compromise.”

Even before the president spoke, Keehan’s approving statement was released through the White Houses own press portals, with Dionne’s endorsement swiftly following. The one-two punch of Keehan and Dionne was meant to knock out the Bishops before they’d had a chance to find their mouth guards or rise from their corners, and also to signal that it was safe for the “Catholic Left” to regroup behind Obama.

It has not gone precisely as planned. If the matter has successfully been driven from the front pages–and why wouldn’t it be, since the press had initially tried to ignore the story–no one has yet been knocked down by members of the “Catholic Left” racing back into Obama’s corner. Stunned by Obama’s initial plans (which, by the way, were codified last Friday, in their original form, even as Obama was speaking) the “progressives” are paused and perhaps skittish.

Focus for a moment on that reference to the HHS mandate plans which “were codified last Friday, in their original form, even as Obama was speaking,” because there’s been very little media attention on that. On my radio show the following Monday, American Center for Law & Justice senior legal counsel Ed White said he hadn’t seen media coverage of the fact that just hours after Obama’s Friday press conference declaring an ‘accommodation’ to the concerns of religious leaders, the HHS mandate was officially released in its original and unchanged form.

As Elizabeth Scalia stated:

Whether the “Catholic Left” can “hope” for more from Obama is questionable, as the White House Chief of Staff said over the weekend that the administration was finished with the issue.

This unwillingness of staunch Obama supporters to quickly embrace his latest idea and perform a full-pivot from the bishops has become for me the most interesting part of the story. As a rule, I think any of these men would be all-too-happy to leave the Bishop’s corners for Obama’s on this particular issue, but–in good conscience–they simply cannot. His stated mandate was so shocking to ideas of justice and constitutionality that whether the president is dealing in good faith has now become an unknowable—why did Obama feel a need to ensnare the churches in an issue that could have been attended to in other ways?

This is forcing an open examination of policies and goals.

If, upon gauging the dismay of his allies within the church, Obama had truly meant to assuage the consciences of his Catholic allies, he could have done so easily and clearly; instead his words suggested to some that even the narrow conscience clause offered in his first decision was at risk, and his solution looks like a shell game, analogous, as blogger Marc Barnes put it, to trying to force Orthodox Jewish restaurants to sell bacon, but then “accommodating” them by forcing them to “pay a Gentile with a bacon cart to serve pork” for them.

For that matter, if Obama had been genuinely interested in pleasing believers in general and Catholics in particular, he would have conferred with the bishops, and gotten their thoughts on the nuances between direct and indirect co-operation with evil, rather than going around them.

But Obama’s move on Friday wasn’t about nuance; it was about destroying the surprising unity of the “Catholic Right” and the “Catholic Left” on this issue; it was about dividing and conquering.

And…

What the HHS Mandate has revealed is that the preservation of the freedom of religion–of the churches rights to be who and what they are and to exercise their missions–is worth going to the mat for, no matter which corner you’re coming from.

The USCCB has tried again and again to make that clear.

And as Yuval Levin warns, the White House sees religious freedom as a dangerous thing. Follow this through…

As [White House Press Secretary Jay] Carney or his boss might say: Let’s be clear. As things stand today, employers don’t have to provide insurance coverage to their employees, though many choose to do so, and if they do so they can provide whatever kind of insurance they choose (within the constraints of existing state laws and mandates)—based on their or their employees’ preferences and needs. Obamacare will require them to provide insurance or else pay a large fine to the federal government. And under the new HHS rule, it will also require that insurance (in the case of religious and non-religious employers alike) to include coverage for contraceptive and abortive drugs and sterilization. Senator Blunt’s [conscience protection] bill would allow employers to avoid being put in the impossible position of having to choose between providing access to services or products that violate their moral or religious convictions or paying a large fine.
 
Many of the bill’s supporters (though not all) would no doubt like to repeal Obamacare altogether—since the very nature of that statute means that situations like this are unavoidable. But at this point, in response to the HHS rule’s particular offense against our constitutional order, they have proposed a narrower measure that rolls back only a small portion of the law’s offenses against our basic liberties and merely restores the conscience protections that existed before Obamacare. And even that modest measure, simply allowing employers to have some measure of control over the services they will now be compelled to purchase for their employees, is asserted by the administration to be dangerous and wrong. The idea that “any employer could restrict access to any service they say they object to” is not some crime against humanity. It’s called freedom.
 
The White House’s reaction is yet further proof that the debate surrounding the HHS rule is about much more than religious liberty—and indeed is about much more than the HHS rule. It is about liberty as such, and the threats posed to it by Obamacare as a whole. It powerfully reinforces the case for replacing this detestable law, and for replacing its authors, with alternatives far more friendly to freedom and a properly limited government—not to mention far better able to actually address the problems with our health-care system.
 
As Carney says: “Decisions about medical care should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss.” Quite right. And we might add: not by a woman and her federal bureaucracy either. The desire to have those decisions be made by a woman and her doctor does not point to Obamacare. It points to a reform of our health-care system that would give individuals more options and more control, and would use robust competition among insurers and providers—rather than yet another layer of oppressive regulations—to reduce the cost and improve the quality of American health care. It points to freedom, which means it points to the need to elect a new president.

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Feb 11

Back in 2008 when Barack Obama was running for president, his media and message-savvy team smugly dubbed him ‘no drama Obama,’ so controlled was his image. They’re going to have to come up with something new for 2012.

His ”war on the church” dominated news cycles last week, and isn’t going away yet. Though “the church” in the headlines is Catholic, other religious leaders have started saying “We’re all Catholic now.”

I’m reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King’s profound remarks in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

And constitutional rights that apply to everyone anywhere in its bounds are at stake here. Which is why the “firestorm” of controversy that dominated headline news last week produced Friday’s ‘breaking news’ press conference pegged as a “compromise” by Obama in concession to religious leaders.

It wasn’t. Watching it live, I said to those around me ‘He hasn’t changed a thing. This is a smokescreen. A shell game. It’s restating the same imperative using different words.’

Here, in a nutshell, is how a lot of media are portraying it.

U.S. Catholic Church leaders said they will fight President Barack Obama’s controversial birth-control insurance coverage policy despite his compromise that religious employers would not have to offer free contraceptives for workers, shifting the responsibility to insurers.

In an abrupt policy shift aimed at trying to end a growing election-year firestorm, Obama on Friday announced the compromise.

And here, in a nutshell, is that “compromise”:

Here’s how the HHS mandate and the new “accommodation” work.

Then: All employers that don’t meet the narrow “religious exemption,” including Catholic hospitals and universities, are required by law to provide insurance coverage that includes contraception and sterilization procedures with no out of pocket costs to the insured.

Now: All employers that don’t meet the narrow “religious exemption,” including Catholic hospitals and universities, are required by law to provide insurance coverage. All such coverage must include contraception and sterilization procedures with no out of pocket costs to the insured.

There is no difference, except in word arrangement and rhetoric.

“The so-called new policy is the discredited old policy, dressed up to look like something else,” said [Congressman Chris] Smith. “It remains a serious violation of religious freedom. Only the most naïve or gullible would accept this as a change in policy.”

“The newest iteration of Obama’s coercion rule utterly fails because it still forces religious employers and employees who have moral objections to paying for abortion inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception to pay for these things, because it is still the employers who buy the coverage for their employees,” he said. “Today’s announcement is a political manipulation designed to get Obama past his own self-made controversy and past the next election.

He has helped himself in at least that, as this insightful piece by Phil Lawler points out.

Unfortunately, before the bishops released their second statement, leaders of two of the largest Catholic employers in the country—the Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities USA–had released their own statements indicating that they were satisfied with the Obama administration’s “compromise” proposal. So while the political battle continues, the Catholic forces are already split.

In a perceptive analysis of the political debate, reporter Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times said that in its decision to amend the original HHS mandate, the Obama administration was “never really driven by a desire to mollify Roman Catholic bishops, who were strongly opposed to the plan.” She explained:

“Rather, the fight was for Sister Carol Keehan–head of an influential Catholic hospital group, who had supported President Obama’s health care law–and Catholic allies of the White House seen as the religious left. Sister Keehan had told the White House that the new rule, part of the health care law, went too far.”

Now that Sister Keehan has endorsed the Obama “compromise” (along with Father Larry Snyder of Catholic Charities USA), the Obama administration can claim that many Catholics, including some who had originally opposed the plan, now see the wisdom of his ways. President Obama does not intend to persuade the American bishops to support his proposal; he intends to siphon off support for the bishops among American Catholic voters, driving a political wedge further into the country’s Catholic community.

Especially now that they’ve come together in the force of unity.

So the USCCB leaders recognize the thrust of the Obama administration’s political offensive. They realize that the White House has set out to divide and conquer, to separate the Catholic laity from their bishops. Now surely they see that when groups like the Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities USA side with the Obama administration, they are contributing to the erosion of the bishops’ authority and the splintering of the Church. So this is not merely an important political battle; it is a critical test of the bishops’ overall authority.

They’re not retreating anytime soon.

In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters. The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.

We will therefore continue—with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency—our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government.

Mr. Obama should be concerned about the larger Catholic Vote.

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Jan 30

The Obama administration did what no one or nothing else has seemed able to do in recent history in one sweeping stroke…galvanize Catholics who were otherwise evenly divided for and against his policies.

This story is growing in both heat and light.

First, on January 19th, Pope Benedict warned the church in the US that ‘radical secularism’ was posing new threats to religious liberty in this country. 

At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing. In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God. Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such…

The Church’s defense of a moral reasoning based on the natural law is grounded on her conviction that this law is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a “language” which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world…

The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.

 However, the State chose to do just that, and announced it the next day.

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

[On Friday, January 20th], 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.

This much I’ve reported on before. But go a bit further, as I did on radio the other day with two experts fro ACLJ.

After the HHS handed down its interim rule in August, 2011, numerous organizations, including the ACLJ, submitted comments to HHS arguing that the proposed rule would violate federal law and subvert the First Amendment. As the ACLJ wrote in its September 29, 2011 letter to HHS on behalf of Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St. Cecilia:

“In their 151-year history, the Nashville Dominicans have, with the help of God, survived a Civil War on their doorstep, deadly epidemics, devastating floods, economic depression and tumultuous social upheaval. Today, however, they face a new, more insidious threat — their own government . . . Should HHS persist in implementing the Interim Rule and its contraceptive mandate without major modifications, the Congregation will be forced to curtail its mission. What war and disease could not do to the Congregation, the government of the United States will do. It will shut them down.”

Yes, this is as big as it sounds. Hard to comprehend, really. The US bishops’ communications director posted this:

Health and Human Services’ recent attacks on freedom of religion show it is deaf to religious sensibilities. Even the Administration’s resounding defeat on January 11—when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Administration’s reading of the First Amendment as “extreme,” “untenable,” and having “no merit”—couldn’t unplug its ears.

The Court held in Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC that the government could not meddle in the internal affairs of religious organizations, in this case, a Lutheran church and school. Yet nine days later, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it would force all but a few religious organizations to violate their own teachings in providing health care benefits to their own people…

The First Amendment unambiguously says that government “shall make no law” prohibiting the free exercise of religion. It doesn’t say that some laws trampling free exercise are fine. It says no law…

Must Catholic hospitals, to be true to their identity, now turn away people of other faiths from their emergency rooms and fire non-Catholic employees? Currently, Catholic hospitals serve one out of six people who seek hospital care in our country. Must Catholic Charities hire and serve only Catholics in its food pantries and other social service agencies? Until today, you didn’t need a baptismal certificate for soup.

This egregious violation of religious freedom marks the first time in our history that the federal government is forcing religious people and groups to ante up for services that violate their consciences. Some claim this is all about access to contraceptives—but everyone knows how and where to get them, and get them cheaply. And the mandate also forces coverage of sterilization and abortion-causing drugs. This is about forcing the church to pay for all these things through insurance coverage, to sponsor these “benefits” that it considers immoral. This is, in other words, about freedom of religion, which is a foundation stone of U.S. democracy.

To be clear…

The government allows other religions to live out their beliefs. The Amish have a conscientious objection to health insurance, and so the law exempts them from buying it. The government acknowledges their right to live out their religious convictions in U.S. society. Why are beliefs of Catholics and others dismissed?

To make clear something that didn’t get much press coverage…

Some months ago HHS refused to award an anti-trafficking grant to the U.S. Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS). It did so despite MRS’s scoring higher on an objective scale (according to the government’s independent advisors evaluating grant applications) than two of the three organizations that were awarded grants. (And two of those scored so low that they were deemed unqualified.) I suggested then that HHS had an ABC rule, “Anybody But Catholics.” Now I wonder if ABC isn’t also the answer to who gets freedom of religion.

That is abundantly clear, and it’s pulling Catholics together unlike anything else has, to assert fundamental rights common to all citizens, left or right, liberal or conservative, and especially the people they serve.

This federal mandate is “an unconscionable threat,” and Dr. Donald Condit frames it in clear and unambiguous terms.

In May 2009, President Obama delivered the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame where he proclaimed, to naïve applause: “Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics … ”

What a difference a few semesters make…

Last week, the National Association of Evangelicals said it was “deeply disappointed” by the administration’s ruling. “Freedom of conscience is a sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state,” said Galen Carey, NAE Vice President for Government Relations. “No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience.  The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent.”

On the Huffington Post, Romanian Orthodox priest Fr. Peter-Michael Preble, an early supporter of President Obama, said the HHS ruling was a “direct attack” on religious freedom in America and the beginning of more attacks on the faith of Americans. He’s also changed his mind about the president. “Well I now feel I was duped and his brand of change is not what America needs at all,” Preble wrote.

The Catholic Medical Association also responded: “This latest attack by the Obama administration on religious freedom and free speech rights should be of grave concern to all Americans because it is destructive of individual rights and of the common good. It should be challenged and resisted by all legitimate means.”

Here are some suggestions.

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Nov 20

Donations are supposed to be gifts, freely given. Especially when the gift is a bodily organ.

The rules for organ harvesting have already been changing for years. Now, new information is coming out about one of President Obama’s regulatory czars having an aggressive plan to remove organs from people who hadn’t designated themselves as donors.

The proposal could move the federal government closer into alignment with what has been proposed by longtime Barack Obama adviser Cass Sunstein.

Obama’s “regulatory czar” was revealed in 2009 to have pushed strongly for the removal of organs from those who did not give their consent to becoming an organ donor.

In his book, “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness,” Sunstein and co-author Richard Thaler presented the possibility of the “routine removal” of organs because “the state owns the rights to body parts of people who are dead or in certain hopeless conditions, and it can remove their organs without asking anyone’s permission.”

What?

“Though it may sound grotesque, routine removal is not impossible to defend,” he wrote. “In theory, it would save lives, and it would do so without intruding on anyone who has any prospect for life.”

Not only grotesque, but bizarre…

He also has argued for presumed consent, the idea that anyone who has not left specific orders against organ donation is a voluntary contributor to the program, a plan that has been proposed in some state legislatures as recently as the last few years.

(emphasis added, for clarity)

A spokeswoman for the the operators of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network told WND that a new round of public comments will be heard regarding the issue that the CMA said would allow those caring for critically ill patients to start considering them for their potential to donate organs while they remain alive.

“Gone [would be] the crucial wall separating patient care from donation solicitations,” said a letter this week from the chief of the CMA. “Such undue influence on difficult decisions at a heart-wrenching time is ethically unacceptable.”

So is deluding the public into thinking that taking public comment means they could make a difference in determining legislation. We have only to recall the HHS ‘public comment’ window on mandated contraceptive and elective sterilization coverage. HHS asserted up front that they had no requirement to act on anyone’s wishes, public or institutional or even congressional oversight. The reality, they reminded everyone, is that they have unchecked power. And they will wield it as they will.

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Nov 02

When he closed down the ‘faith-based initiatives’ office in the beginning of his presidency, it was an early warning.

Whoever missed it then, can’t help but see it now. It’s getting worse, fast.

The Washington Post is reporting this morning about a “contentious battle” emerging between Catholic groups and the Obama administration over a multitude of issues ranging from Obamacare, abortion, contraception, and even human trafficking.

What brought the fracas tumbling out into the street was apparently a decision by the Department of Health and Human Services three weeks ago not to renew a grant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to aid victims of sex trafficking. A five-year, $19 million grant, which expired in March, was first awarded to the USCCB in 2006 via President Bush’s faith based initiatives program.

The decision to deny funding to the USCCB by HHS, which is headed by pro-abortion Catholic Kathleen Sebelius, appears to have been based purely on political and ideological hostility.

One of the ideas that stuck with me from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink is intuitive repulsion. That came to mind reading this report. Came to mind again, that is. There have been many occasions.

A bone of contention with the Obama administration, which it admitted, was the bishops’ refusal to refer sex trafficking victims for contraception or abortion. HHS went on to split a new $4.5 million grant between three organizations that all scored “significantly below the Catholic bishops’ application by the review panel,” according to WashPo. Their threads of similarity were support for contraception and abortion.

To be sure, the bishops haven’t declared war on the administration. It’s the other way around.

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Oct 04

Given the expressed intent of the Founding Fathers in establishing a free, just and virtuous society, the importance of morality as its foundation, and their recourse to God from the beginning through recent history…it’s remarkable that we are in this battle now.

But some of our fundamental rights are under an unprecedented wave of assaults by raw federal and judicial power, so the gravity of the moment is sinking in.

The stunning power grab by HHS in mandating health insurance coverage of contraceptives and controversial FDA approved ’morning-after’ drugs that work on the same mechanism as RU-486 abortifacents…all covered with no co-pay under the category of ‘preventive health care for women’…pushed the debate that started with the Obama healthcare legislation into a confrontation. Some high-profile Catholic supporters of ‘Obamacare’ have become alarmed at its latest implementation.

Like CHA head Sr. Carol Keehan.

The Catholic Health Association, in comments dated Sept. 23, also criticized the HHS proposal.

“Requiring our members to cover contraceptive services, including sterilization and drugs with an abortifacient effect, would put them in an untenable situation,” said Sister Carole Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is CHA president and CEO.

The proposed exemptions, she added, raise “serious constitutional questions” by trying to define if an organization is “sufficiently religious” to warrant the exemption. “The government is unconstitutionally parsing a bona fide religious organization into ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ components solely to impose burdens on the secular portion,” Sister Carol said.

They are false exemptions, frankly, that fool no one, as Sr. Carol Keehan proves by her criticism. They’re so ridiculously written, not even Jesus would qualify, says Cardinal Daniel DiNardo.

Jesus himself would not qualify for the Department of Health and Human Services “religious employer exemption” from its abortifacient contraceptive mandate, according to the chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The HHS’s “religious employer exemption” is “so extremely narrow that it protects almost no one,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. “Jesus himself, or the Good Samaritan of his famous parable, would not qualify as ‘religious enough’ for the exemption, since they insisted on helping people who did not share their view of God.”

DiNardo was objecting to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requirement, which will go into effect in 2012, that all insurance programs nationwide cover all forms of contraception – including abortifacient drugs such as Plan B and Ella – and sterilization as “preventive services for women.” Under the mandate only faith-based institutions that serve members of the same faith would be able to claim an exemption – thereby excluding the large number of religious organizations that offer their services to people of any or no faith.

The remarks, in which the cardinal accused the HHS of “a distorted view of sexuality and a disdain for the role of religion,” were made as part of the USCCB’s 40th annual October observance of Respect Life Month.

“The decision [by HHS] is wrong on many levels,” the cardinal said. “Preventive services are aimed at preventing diseases (e.g., by vaccinations) or detecting them early to aid prompt treatment (e.g., screening for diabetes or cancer). But pregnancy is not a disease…. Mandating such coverage shows neither respect for women’s health or freedom, nor respect for the consciences of those who do not want to take part in such problematic initiatives,” he said.

I spoke with Cardinal DiNardo on my radio show, and he expressed the bishops’ fundamental concern about the whole effort to redefine the truths of the human person and marginalize beliefs that hold the sanctity and dignity of human life as central to everything else. Here are just some of the resources he and the USCCB provide for the defense of life and liberty, and they are abundant.

We talked about the morphing of ‘freedom of religion’ into ‘freedom of worship’, which mean very different things. The difference means, to re-state the threat at hand, driving religiously informed voices from the public debate over social moral issues. It’s happening, and he emphasized the need to resist it, and that starts by recognizing that its happening in the first place.

After Cardinal DiNardo, I spoke with Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, co-author of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act in Congress. He couldn’t stress public involvement in this effort enough, and I was struck by his fervent appeal and sobering outlook. HR 1179 isn’t gaining the attention it needs because short of alternative media, it’s being conveniently ignored. And calling or writing members of Congress is only one action, Fortenberry said. It’s going to require so much more, and I was struck by what he said. Startled, really.

Fortenberry said in the Capitol, he frequently sees great numbers of young, vibrant and attractive young people zealously engaged in a cause and filling the halls of congressional offices with their messages. This happens regularly, he said, and I’m picturing a positive image of those zealous young pro-lifers who fill the Mall of Washinton every year for the March for Life. Yes, he said, that’s a great event and yes, they come out in droves and hundreds of thousands and it’s so heartening to see that on that day each year.

But it’s one day a year, and then they disappear. The young people he’s so used to seeing engaged in activism in the halls of congressional offices are wearing pink with signs advocating for Planned Parenthood. They are turning out in great numbers on a regular basis, and the pro-life movement is not. This is tough love, but it’s true. The success of a movement is determined by its staying power in public activism, and it’s tough to see and to hear that the abortion supporters are present in far greater numbers on a regular basis than pro-life supporters.

I don’t know about the show’s listeners, but I was jarred into realizing this is going to take a whole new level of activism Congressman Fortenberry proposed. No…urged. Contact your elected representatives, yes. And then spread the message to your groups, networks, organizations, friends and associations. Put up links in your social networks. Spread information, rally people to gatherings and take some action to defend and protect human dignity and fundamental rights of conscience and religious liberty.

It’s not going to happen unless people of faith and moral conviction are all in. Not participating is not an option. I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s un-American to say it’s not going to make a difference. That’s a self-fulfilling prohesy.

During the show today, I recalled Congressman Henry Hyde’s reference to the quote: ‘Not only for every idle threat, but for every idle silence will man be made to render an account.’ Silence is not an option.

(Here’s the radio interview for October 4th.)

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Oct 03

Policies of the federal government under the Obama administration have ignited a blaze of concerns about fundamental religious liberties in America.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the US bishops conference, wrote a letter to the president recently.

The Administration’s assault on DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act], Archbishop Dolan said, will “precipitate a national conflict between Church and State of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions.”

“Will”…?

Archbishop Dolan especially objected to the Justice Department’s legal arguments that equate those in favor of DOMA to racists. It is “particularly upsetting,” he said, when the Administration attributes to those who support DOMA “a motivation rooted in prejudice and bias.It is especially wrong and unfair to equate opposition to redefining marriage with either intentional or willfully ignorant racial discrimination, as your Administration insists on doing,” he said.

He underscored the Church’s position recognizing “the immeasurable personal dignity and equal worth of all individuals, including those with same-sex attraction” and said “we reject all hatred and unjust treatment against any person.”

“Our profound regard for marriage as the complementary and fruitful union of a man and a woman does not negate our concern for the well-being of all people but reinforces it,” he said. “While all persons merit our full respect, no other relationships provide for the common good what marriage between husband and wife provides.The law should reflect this reality.”

Archbishop Dolan advised President Obama: “push the reset button on your Administration’s approach to DOMA.”

“Our federal government should not be presuming ill intent or moral blindness on the part of the overwhelming majority of its citizens, millions of whom have gone to the polls to directly support DOMAs in their states and have thereby endorsed marriage as the union of man and woman.Nor should a policy disagreement over the meaning of marriage be treated by federal officials as a federal offense—but this will happen if the Justice Department’s latest constitutional theory prevails in court.”

Archbishop Dolan asked President Obama to “end its campaign against DOMA, the institution of marriage it protects, and religious freedom.”

“Please know that I am always ready to discuss with you the concerns raised here and to address any questions that you may have.” he added. “I am convinced that the door to a dialogue that is strong enough to endure even serious and fundamental disagreements can and must remain open, and I believe that you desire the same.”

Archbishop Dolan was offering a statesman-like presumption of goodwill in warning that if this course is continued, it “will” result in a national conflict. Because it actually has.

Just days ago, the bishops assembled a new ‘task force’ to tackle this new and historic threat to religious liberties.

Saying they are increasingly distressed over government policies that promote contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage and amount to an assault on religious freedom, the U.S. bishops have established a committee to shape public policy and coordinate the church’s response on the issue.

The Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty was announced Sept. 30 by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., was named chairman of the new committee.

“There is a common and factually grounded perception that religious liberty is increasingly under assault at the state and federal level in the United States, whether through unfriendly legislation or through rules and regulations that impede or tend to impede the work of the church,”…

He says the government is playing God.

Emerging threats to religious freedom have inspired the U.S. bishops to establish a new committee for its protection. Its chairman sees government taking God’s place as the source of the “first freedom.”

Bridgeport Bishop William E. Lori told CNA on Sept. 30 that a “principal and overarching error,” connecting several different threats to the free exercise of faith, is “the view that it is the state that grants religious liberty, and not God.”

“Even though religious liberty is enshrined at the head of the Bill of Rights, in the First Amendment, there is an increasing tendency to make it a lesser right – and to make it quite relative to other, ‘newly-discovered’ rights in our law and in our culture,” said the Connecticut bishop, whose 2010 pastoral letter “Let Freedom Ring” addressed the subject of state intrusion against believers.

The chair of the new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty said respect for “religion as a merely private affair” remains largely intact.

But he warned that the “institutional conscience” of religious hospitals and similar establishments is being threatened at high levels – as are the conscience rights of individuals in “clutch situations” like filling prescriptions or issuing marriage licenses.

“Their rights are being trampled upon,” said Bishop Lori.

In his letter announcing the new committee’s formation, Archbishop Dolan said that the “basic right” to religious freedom “is now increasingly and in unprecedented ways under assault in America,” especially from an “an increasing number of federal government programs or policies that would infringe upon the right of conscience of people of faith.”

The ‘national conflict of enormous proportions’ is not coming. It is here.

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Jan 19

In radio, we do a lot of show prep, researching relevant materials on the topics and guests we’ll be covering on a particular program, and sometimes that requires a sweeping review of wide-ranging resources to pluck the gems and see the greater picture.

That thought occurred to me when I saw Rocco Palmo’s post about the USCCB President’s state of the union letter, in advance of the US president’s address. I could have linked directly to it on the USCCB site. But it benefits from this buildup.

It might be another week until President Obama ascends the rostrum of the House chamber to deliver his “State of the Union” address, but in a letter dated Thursday, the new president of the US bishops, Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York, continued his predecessor’s tradition of outlining in depth the bench’s policy priorities and areas of concern to the members of the 112th Congress.

Lest anyone needed reminding, the US’ roughly 68 million Catholics comprise, by far, the nation’s largest religious body.

And that is followed by the the full text of Dolan’s letter. Which is also here. Must reading for a faithfully engaged electorate.

But back to Whispers for this

(At the same time, with the House taking up its new Republican majority’s long-pledged debate and vote on the repeal of the health-care reform package passed and signed into law last year, the following letter, dated today, was sent to its 435 members from the conference’s three key chairs on the health-care debate: the Pro-Life chair Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston; the Migration chair, Los Angeles Coadjutor-Archbishop José Gomez, and the Domestic Policy chair, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton)

Members of Congress acknowledge the role of the bishops of pointing out “certain fundamental moral parameters” in creating law and social policy. Altogether, this is richly resourceful for President Obama as he prepares for the SOTU. I know how much I appreciate strong show prep before addressing important matters.

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