by Arnold Ahlert
On Monday, 43 Roman Catholic organizations filed lawsuits in a dozen different federal courts, challenging the Obama administration’s mandate requiring insurance coverage for “preventive health services” inimical to their faith. The litigation represents the latest stage of a battle that began January 20th, when the administration announced that the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would require Catholic institutions and individual Catholic employers to provide contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs to all of their employees. The Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services Departments are being sued by Jones Day, a law firm representing all the plaintiffs pro bono. “We have tried negotiations with the administration and legislation with the Congress — and we’ll keep at it — but there’s still no fix,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan in a statement.
Cardinal Dolan further illuminated the Church’s position on “CBS This Morning” yesterday. “They tell us if you’re really going be considered a church, if you’re going to be really exempt from these demands of the government, well, you have to propagate your Catholic faith and everything you do, you can serve only Catholics and employ only Catholics,” Dolan said. ”We’re like, wait a minute, when did the government get in the business of defining for us the extent of our ministry?”
Perhaps the best answer to that question would be Friday, February 10th, when the administration claimed they would “accommodate” Catholic concerns with a “compromise,” whereby insurance providers would provide coverage for the disputed services. It was initially well received by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who called it “a first step in the right direction.” Twenty-four hours later the compromise was rejected. “In the case where the employee and insurer agree to add the objectionable coverage, that coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer’s plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer. This, too, raises serious moral concerns,” the Bishops decided.
At that juncture, the administration managed to peel away some of the more left-leaning Catholic organizations, such as Catholic Charities, the Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic hospitals across the country, as well as individual Catholic Democrats and other liberals who applauded the ostensible compromise. James Salt, executive director of Catholics United, a liberal advocacy group aligned with the administration, castigated the bishops, whose “blanket opposition appears to serve the interests of a political agenda, not the needs of the American people.” Apparently for Mr. Salt and other like-minded thinkers, it is Catholics who have a political agenda, not a federal government that mandates that they violate their religious beliefs.
During the next phase of the battle, a hopelessly compromised mainstream media not only took the Obama administration’s side on the issue, but amplified it into a “war on women.” A Washington Post column by Sally Quinn claimed “Jesus would be rolling over in his grave if he hadn’t already left it,” because Vatican bishops issued a report critical of nuns who aligned themselves with President Obama on the issue of birth control mandates. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd was equally apoplectic. “It has become a habit for the church to go after women,” she wrote, further noting that church leadership “never recoiled in horror from pedophilia, yet it recoils in horror from outspoken nuns.” OpEdNews columnist Gregory Paul contended that “the Catholic patriarchy is engaged in a global conspiracy to deny women their reproductive rights.”
The common thread? Like so many progressives, these three and countless others believe the Church should accommodate a “more enlightened” (read progressive) ideology, even where that ideology is utterly antithetical to Catholic tenets. For genuine Catholics, that kind of reasoning is exactly backwards. Yet it is precisely this same backward reasoning that animates an Obama administration willing to “negotiate” its way around that part of the First Amendment that doesn’t fully “accommodate” ObamaCare.
Soon after that, the Catholic war on women became the Republican war on women. A Georgetown law student named Sandra Fluke got her 15 minutes of fame bemoaning the fact that the Catholic university didn’t provide her and her classmates with free birth control, further arguing that free contraceptives were “a natural human right.” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius accused Republicans of wanting to “roll back the last 50 years in progress women have made in comprehensive health care in America.” Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) trolled for campaign donations to counter Republicans’ “unprecedented assault on women’s rights.”For a short time, the attacks on both the Church and Republicans seemed like a worthwhile gambit. Yet as time went on, the “war” began to lose steam. No doubt that loss was abetted by non-contraceptive issues, such as Hilary Rosen’s thoughtless attack on Ann Romney for “never working a day in her life,” or the fact that the feminist-promoting president pays female White House employees 18% less than their male counterparts.
Nevertheless, the erosion has become considerable. New polls reveal that Mr. Obama has lost support among both women and Catholics. In March, the president ostensibly had a commanding 2-to-1 lead over Mitt Romney among women. According to a CBS poll conducted May 11-13, Mitt Romney now holds a 46-43 percent edge over Mr. Obama. A Pew Survey shows that the 53-44 percent advantage Mr. Obama enjoyed over Mr. Romney in March had turned into a 50-45 percent edge for Mr. Romney in April.
Thus it would seem that the administration, despite all of its self-assured smugness, is on the losing side of a war they themselves initiated. Moreover, they have made no movement away from the mandate that was finalized on February 12. It is scheduled to go into effect on August 1st, with a “safe harbor” provision for some organizations until August 1, 2013. In a bit of comic relief, Cardinal Dolan referred to this provision as “a year in which we’re supposed to figure out how we can violate our consciences.”
In the meantime, a number of developments will take place, including a Supreme Court decision on ObamaCare next month; the introduction by Marco Rubio (R-FL) of a new Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012 designed to counter the ObamaCare mandate; the Catholic lawsuits; and last but not least, the general election in November.
Progressives and their media enablers have endeavored mightily to make this dispute about women’s rights. That is, quite simply, a lie. There is no more a “right” to contraception, which is cheap and widely available, than there is to cigarettes and beer, which are equally so. It is yet another effort by this administration to expand the reach of government, this time into the religious arena, and forcibly conscript people of faith to do the state’s bidding. If it succeeds, such people will have one of two choices. They can abandon their ability to administer services in education, health care, charities, and social services to government bureaucracies — or they can abandon their religion. Cardinal Dolan explained the implications. “Never before have we faced this kind of challenge to our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith.”
Not in America. But the history of other nations is replete with horror tales of socialists, Marxists and other assorted totalitarians who have sought to drive religion from the public square, or eliminate it completely. Why? Ironically, such efforts have invariably been associated with creating Socialist Utopias or a workers paradises. Just as ironically, no group of Americans has labored harder for “separation of church and state” than progressives — until it interferes with their sense of entitlement.
The archdiocese of Washington, D.C. illuminates the reason for the litigation. “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 says on a special website created for the occasion. “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.”
Amen to that.Arnold Ahlert
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