The bishops’ recent statement, “Our first, most cherished liberty,” posted earlier in this blog, reframes the debate in the larger context of religious freedom. The HHS mandate is the most recent, and most sweeping, of the administration’s attempts to restrict religious liberty, but there are enough other examples to constitute a frightening trend.
George Weigel comments on the debate in a new article. As Weigel notes,
The Ad Hoc Committee’s statement also underscores that what the bishops are seeking to clarify for all Americans is a fundamental issue of social justice, and what they are determined to remedy is a fundamental injustice. The HHS “contraceptive mandate,” the bishops argue, is not a matter on which the Church seeks an accommodation for its own distinct (and, by implication, bizarre) views. Like the state immigration laws that forbid Catholic priests from offering the sacraments to illegal immigrants, the HHS mandate is an unjust law. And as the bishops note, following Martin Luther King Jr.’s exegesis of St. Augustine in King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, “An unjust law is no law at all.”
The tone of the bishops has changed from one of compromise, as Weigel notes.
The bishops are not interested in being accommodated; they are interested in justice. So it is “essential to understand the distinction between conscientious objection and an unjust law. Conscientious objection permits some relief to those who object to a just law for reasons of conscience — conscription being the most well-known example. An unjust law is ‘no law at all’. It cannot be obeyed, and therefore one does not seek relief from it, but rather its repeal.” The bishops also urge Catholics to stop thinking in Tribal categories, as if we were children asking our nannies for a treat. We are not asking for favors; we are demanding that our rights be acknowledged and protected.
Is the bishops’ response to the HHS mandate partisan politics, as some have claimed?
In light of these realities, it was somewhat odd for Catholic supporters of the administration, such as the editors of Commonweal, to fret that the bishops’ statement risked a tilt into “partisan politics.” The HHS mandate did not come from nowhere. It came from an administration that (as the bishops also point out) had signaled a shrinkage in its understanding of “religious freedom” as applied to international human rights policy. It came from an administration that, as Whelan demonstrated, has persistently and willfully ignored the expressed concerns of thoughtful citizens about the coercive path it was treading.
Read Weigel’s entire article; it is worth your time.