The Department of Health and Human Services’ so-called “contraception mandate” became official law Wednesday. And the moment that it did, the nature of religious freedom in this country was dramatically changed.
First, a major misconception must be cleared up. Specifically, American citizens need to understand that the mandate that became law is the mandate that was originally proposed by the Obama administration. This original version requires employers to provide and pay for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs in their health-care plans, regardless of religious objection.
What many people have referred to as the “accommodation” exists as nothing more than rhetoric. It is an idea that President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius proposed, and then gave themselves and Americans a year to “think about.” While this accommodation was largely rejected as little more than an accounting gimmick laced with moral implications for objecting religious employers, currently it matters little. What matters is the fact that our president and HHS proposed a law that Catholics of all stripes deemed an unconstitutional affront.
By way of reminder, here are just some remarks from the unlikely allies against the original mandate.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. wrote, “the [Catholic] Church’s leaders had a right to ask for broader relief from a contraception mandate that would require it to act against its own teachings.” He said that the administration had “utterly botched” the way it handled the mandate.
Former DNC Chairman Tim Kaine said that the administration made a “bad decision in not allowing a broad enough religious employer exemption.”
National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters said of President Obama’s handling of the mandate, “The issue of conscience protections is so foundational, I do not see how I ever could, in good conscience, vote for this man again.” MSNBC host Chris Matthews said that it is, “frightening when the state tells the church what to do.”
The editorial boards of several left-leaning publications, some of them Catholic, also denounced the mandate in its original form. The editors of Commonweal wrote, “It is hard to see what is “liberal” in coercing religious individuals and institutions. … One does not need to oppose contraception to see that, in this case, it’s far less important than the principle, and practice, of religious freedom.” The editors of the Washington Post opined, “This time, too, we think the administration came down on the wrong side of a tough call.”
The editors of America Magazine stated:
For the narrow definition of religion in the new H.H.S. guideline is at odds with the millennia-old Catholic understanding of the church as a community of believers in service to the world. The H.H.S. definition would force the church to function as a sect, restricted to celebrating its own devotions on the margins of society. The ruling is a threat to our living as a church in the Catholic manner.
And the editors of the National Catholic Reporter proclaimed:
Catholics of all stripes have also voiced deep concerns. The opposition to the decision runs across all the usual divides. Left and right, conservative and liberal, orthodox and progressive, all have made it clear: We might disagree with our bishops and each other over the issue of contraception, but this ruling seeks to force our church to violate its conscience on a serious matter.
This ruling, folks, is now in effect. Which raises the question: What say they now?
What say they, and every American, to the fact that starting Wednesday, religious people in America now must seek a “safe harbor” if they cannot in good conscience comply with a law that violates their most deeply held beliefs?
What say they to the reality that even with the existence of a nebulous safe harbor and the promise of an accommodation, religious liberty is now on borrowed time from the government? Borrowed time with a glaring, red expiration date?
What say they to the fact that, private employers, equally entitled to religious freedom as non-for-profit employers, will be completely hung out to dry beginning Wednesday? In the latest anti-business move, this administration shows its hostility to the men and women that create jobs, telling them they can do so only on the government’s terms. Telling them their religion has no place in their workplace.
Americans who cherish religious freedom now must decide if they can trust a president who stated that “longstanding federal laws to protect conscience will remain intact” (Executive Order 13535) and seemingly echoed that sentiment during his Notre Dame commencement address, promises that as of Wednesday, he would have broken. Notre Dame is now one of the many religious institutions suing the Obama administration for religious freedom violations.
And even those who found the administration’s olive branch to be more than a withered fake should recognize that the president and his bureaucrats held it out, then threw it out after letting liberal Catholics’ hurrahs give him exit music as his mandate was simultaneously published without a trace of compromise.
This country was founded to be a safe harbor from persecution, a place where religious freedom reigned supreme. That her own citizens now have to seek safe harbor within her borders is a state of existence that should have never come to pass.