Vincent Phillip Muñoz, associate professor of political science at Notre Dame University, has written a political analysis of the U.S. Bishops’ stand for religious liberty, posted earlier in this blog. Muñoz notes that the bishops are calling for civil disobedience:
The bishops call on Catholics in America, “in solidarity with our fellow citizens,” not to obey the law. They implicitly compare the HHS regulation to a segregation-era statute, and even cite Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In a not-so-subtle manner, the bishops tell the Obama administration that they are willing to go to prison rather than comply with the mandate’s provisions.
As Muñoz notes, the bishops have moved beyond accommodation and negotiation.
Now the bishops have made clear that the contraception mandate must be rescinded, because, in their view, even a more expansive exemption cannot sufficiently protect religious freedom.
The bishops did not have to take this route, but all those who cherish religious liberty should be glad they did. If the bishops settled for a more expansive accommodation, they might have been able to get an exemption for their hospitals and universities (including my own, Notre Dame). That would have been the easy way to “preserve” religious liberty while also retaining the mandate.
Thank God that our bishops are leading boldly on this issue. The analysis continues:
But what, then, would the bishops have said to business owners who likely would not have been covered by a more expansive exemption? How could church leaders say that it’s wrong for church institutions to pay for contraception and abortifacients, but that Catholic business owners must cover these costs?
The exemption approach might have allowed the bishops to secure religious liberty for their institutions, but not for all their followers. That would have been a failure of moral authority and political strength to protect the common good.
Our bishops clearly see that we are coming to a time of confrontation. We will be tested. Will you obey this law? Or are you willing to go to jail to stand up for what is right?