Editor Note: The issue of government regulation and religious freedom, of course, concerns the Catholic Church, but it also involves many other groups; especially those that do not conform exactly to the politically correct mold of the time. It is more severe outside of the U.S. where in Canada and England preachers and others are routinely arrested for reading the bible in public. An issue very much worth watching over, that is encroaching more and more.
Originally Published in The Valley Catholic by Brenda Nettles-Riojas
The battle continues
We did not start the fight, but we need to take a stand and go into battle. The fight for religious freedom in the United States continues to escalate, and we cannot afford to remain on the sidelines.
It surprises me that we are not hearing more people roar in protest. Have we become so complacent? Do we not realize the severity of the situation because the war does not come with the sound of ballistic missiles or soldiers in uniform? Or have we lost hope in the political system and become cynical believing instead that we have no say in the end story?
The present battle involving the mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which went into effect Jan. 1, 2014, presents a real threat to religious liberty, a right protected by the First Amendment. The mandate, which requires all group health plans and health insurers to provide coverage that includes sterilization, contraceptives, and drugs and devices that may cause abortions, coerces some religious non-profit organizations to go against their religious beliefs and face penalties if they choose not to bend to the government’s will.
While an exemption has been offered to certain religious organizations, the exemption does not apply to religious institutions such as hospitals, schools and charities. Our own Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and Housing Ministry may fall under that category. The administration has offered an “accommodation,” for these non-profit religious organizations, however, it still requires that they violate their religious beliefs.
A USA Today editorial on Jan. 12, “Obamacare overreach tramples Little Sisters: Our View,” notes, the administration’s “position was constitutionally suspect, politically foolish and ultimately unproductive.”
“The accommodation is more of a fig leaf than a fix: Although religiously affiliated non-profits do not have to supply birth control coverage themselves, they must sign a certification that allows their insurance companies to provide it instead.”
What is particularly troublesome is the attacks on religious freedom are launched in the name of women’s equality.
Helen Alvare, a professor of law at George Mason University and founder of the Women Speak for Themselves movement, points out in a column published in USA Today on Dec. 3, “The president assures us that he is pressing these cases so that women and families – not their bosses or corporate CEOs” make decisions about whether to use abortion-inducing drugs and devices.”
“The While House stance,” she writes, “assumes that women care far more about free access to contraceptives, or their sex lives, than about religious freedom, or allowing businesses to have a conscience. This view of women is degrading. It treats women as one-dimensional victims needing the protection of government-as-big-brother.”
She adds, “The White House insists that its heavy-handed approach is needed to protect women because it thinks contraceptives are “essential to women’s health.” That is, to say the least, a highly dubious claim. Women get sick and die, for the most part, of things like heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Their long list of ailments rarely calls for free contraceptives to solve a health problem.”
Some 90 lawsuits have been filed against the government to challenge the mandate. Later this month on March 25 the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on two cases, in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. In both cases, family-owned businesses are challenging the legality of the HHS regulation.
More than 50 friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed with the Supreme Court in support of the plaintiffs. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) explained in its amicus brief that it opposes “any rule that would require faithful Catholics and other religiously motivated business owners to choose between providing coverage for products and speech that violate their religious beliefs, and exposing their businesses to devastating penalties.” These penalties include “potentially fatal fines” of $100 a day per affected individual.
Over a dozen amicus briefs addressing the increased health risks of hormonal contraceptives have been filed by Bioethics Defense Fund and Life Legal Defense Foundation.
Prior to filing the brief, the U.S. bishops, in a ‘special message’ issued at the conclusion of their fall General Assembly, Nov. 13, in Baltimore, highlighted Pope Francis’ reminder to us that “In the context of society, there is only one thing which the Church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even when it goes against the tide.”
In their message the bishops write, “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.”
In the brief Alvare wrote on behalf of Women Speak for Themselves, she demonstrates to the Court that the Department of Health and Human Services has no rational reason to push the mandate at all, let alone to trample religious freedom in the mix. The final paragraph of the brief sums up the frustration.
“It is demeaning to women to suggest that women’s fertility and their bearing and rearing of children, are “barriers” – “plaguing” women’s economic, social and political integration, and women’s opportunities for “equal access to … goods, privileges and advantages,”– requiring women’s usage of more contraception and ECs. Most women aspire to and do bear and rear children. They build society itself, and need and deserve social support for this important contribution, among others. To agree with HHS that contraception and ECs are indispensable to women’s equality, is to deny that society could find another way to assure respect for women’s innate equality while simultaneously accommodating their aspirations both to be mothers and to be economically and politically integrated into society. To affirm HHS’ second claimed state interest is also to suggest that the infertile male, or the male without childcare responsibilities, is the norm, and that women attain equality only by conforming to this norm. This Court ought not to breathe life into such a destructive and demeaning notion.”
As these cases proceed through the courts, we must continue to pay attention and to keep informed. We need to take action, by speaking up and doing what we can to inform others. Sign the petition on the Women Speak for Themselves website; write a letter to the editor; call your congressman. We cannot remain silent. Most of all we need to maintain hope, pray and fast. We can’t take for granted the freedoms we have. We each need to ask ourselves how much we value our religious liberty and what are we willing to do to defend our faith? Watch the movie “For Greater Glory” about the Cristero War and ask yourself the question again.
We cannot afford to be paralyzed by fear or become cynical about the process. Let us be mindful of Blessed John Paul II’s exhortation “Be not afraid!” The battle may escalate, but it’s not the end of the story.