Why are the bishops suing the U.S. government?

Professor Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard Law School, writes in the Wall Street Journal on why the U.S. Catholic Bishops are suing the U.S. Government.  The HHS mandate is only the most recent, and most well-known, infringement on religious freedom.

Their (the U.S. Bishops’) top-rated program for assistance to human trafficking victims was denied funding for refusing to provide “the full range of reproductive services,” including abortion. For a time, Catholic Relief Services faced a similar threat to its international relief programs. The bishops fear religious liberty is becoming a second-class right.

The HHS mandate requires that most all employers provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization in insurance plans.  The HHS announced the mandate in 2011, earning protest and outrage.

On Jan. 20, however, HHS announced it would not revise the mandate or expand its tight exemption, which covers only religious organizations that mainly hire and serve their co-religionists. Instead, the mandated coverage will continue to apply to hospitals, schools and social service providers run by groups whose religious beliefs require them to serve everyone in need.

Despite what you hear about the Obama Administration’s “generous accommodation,” the administration’s ploy was neither generous nor an accommodation. It was also only a political maneuver; the mandate itself became law without modification on the same day.

Continued attempts to solve the problem by negotiation produced only an announcement by the Obama administration in February that insurance providers would pay for the contested services. Since many Catholic entities are self-insured and the others pay the premiums, the bishops’ concerns were not alleviated.

As Professor Glendon points out, this is not only about churches and good works.  

More is at stake here than the mission of all churches, including the Catholic Church, to provide social services like health care and education to everyone regardless of creed, and to do so without compromising their beliefs. At the deepest level, we are witnessing an attack on the institutions of civil society that are essential to limited government and are important buffers between the citizen and the all-powerful state.

This is not about contraception, or any purported “war on women.”  As Professor Glendon notes, 

If religious providers of education, health care and social services are closed down or forced to become tools of administration policy, the government consolidates a monopoly over those essential services. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, put it, we are witnessing an effort to reduce religion to a private activity. “Never before,” he said, “have we faced this kind of challenge to our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith.”

Where do you stand?

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