George Weigel has written a fine summary of where we are now the HHS mandate is in place.
As Weigel notes,
The Catholic bishops of the United States and other concerned parties have accurately described it as a grave violation of religious freedom; dozens of entities have sued the Obama administration over the mandate, charging that HHS is in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act; at least one federal district judge has granted injunctive relief to a petitioner in those suits; more suits and more decisions are expected.
Why did the administration pick this fight?
More broadly, an array of commentators have seen in the HHS mandate a quintessential expression of the administration’s disdain for the institutions of civil society, which it seems to regard as merely the vehicles for the delivery of “services” the government decides to provide, rather than as associations with their own inherent integrity and their own unique role in democratic public life.
Weigel notes four main points, which are often missed in the mainstream media.
(1) The administration has not made any serious effort to address the concerns over the mandate that have been vigorously pressed by Catholic bishops, Catholic employers, pro-life Americans of all religious persuasions and none, and civil-society advocates. The administration’s alleged “accommodation” of these concerns — after the White House appeared to have been blindsided by the ferocity of the response to the original mandate — was quickly recognized for the accounting shell game it was and is.
(2) The U.S. Catholic bishops, for their part, have stayed strikingly united in their commitment to making the defense of religious freedom in full a priority moral question in the 2012 election.
Weigel adds an interesting piece of political analysis:
In all of this, it might be added parenthetically, the administration has been exceptionally clumsy in its politics and its messaging. The initial announcement of the mandate seemed based on the assumption that the White House could play divide-and-conquer, peeling Catholic progressives away from their religious leaders. The “accommodation,” trotted out when the original strategy didn’t work, seemed to assume that the bishops could be rolled — and indeed would welcome an opportunity to return to the administration’s good graces. When that, too, failed, a great silence ensued; and despite the efforts of the bishops’ staff to engage the administration in a serious exploration of Catholic concerns raised by the mandate, nothing of the sort has happened.
(3) The bishops, for their part, kept the issue alive and amped up the pressure by calling for a “Fortnight for Freedom” between June 21 and July 4: two weeks of prayer, reflection, and activism to bring home to Catholics, and others willing to pay attention, the threats to religious freedom that are now an unhappy staple of American public life.
(4) The charge of “partisanship” that has been leveled against the U.S. bishops from the activist Catholic Left hasn’t stuck, although it got some brief mainstream media attention during a ludicrous “Nuns on the Bus” tour (timed to coincide with the Fortnight for Freedom) that drew crowds that mighthave filled four pews in the National Shrine on July 4.
What’s next? Catholics who, in 2008 voted for then-Senator Obama, have quite a challenge.
Honest Catholic progressives, for their part, now find themselves faced with a daunting task: trying to replicate the Obama-is-one-of-us mantra of 2008, in the face of an accumulating mountain of evidence that the administration regards orthodox Catholicism, and the leadership of Catholic bishops determined to defend human dignity at all stages and in all conditions of life, as major obstacles to its agenda of imposing a dictatorship of relativism on the entire country in the name of “marriage equality” and “reproductive health.” The Catholic progressive case for Obama was not easy to make in 2008, although some very clever people (and some not so very clever people) tried. It is not easy to see how it can be made at all today.
The solution to the HHS mandate, and to the threats to religious freedom posed by this administration, must be political. Despite some initial success (an injunction against the HHS last week), the final resolution won’t be found in the courts. As Weigel notes, even if suits against the HHS mandate prevail,
…if it (the Obama administration) is returned to office, the assault on religious freedom and civil society will continue.
This is a bigger issue than just the HHS mandate.
Ever since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s December 2009 speech on international human-rights policy, it has become evident that the administration regards “religious freedom” as a privacy right to certain kinds of weekend recreational activity: religious freedom = freedom of worship, period.
An assault on religious freedom is an assault on our civil society.
As for the assault on civil society, the mandate has given the administration’s critics a golden opportunity to illustrate what happens when all social space is occupied by individuals and the state: Religious institutions are conscripted as bureaus of government; employers’ consciences are coerced; the rich associational texture of American life is dumbed down, so that the reality is not one of Americans “bowling alone” but of Americans compelled to go “bowling with Leviathan.”
The election will be critical. Are you registered to vote? Is your family registered? Are your friends?