Why the Catholic HHS Story Won’t Go Away

In January, the President announced that the Department of Health and Human Services will now require that all health insurance companies must provide contraceptives, including abortifacients (i.e., abortion-inducing drugs).

This mandate came, regardless of anyone’s conscience being bothered. Many people felt that essentially the Obama administration declared war on the Catholic Church.

The administration and liberals try to frame the debate as freedom of contraceptives. But conservatives say, no, it’s really a case of religious liberty.

On Monday, May 21, 2012, 43 Catholic institutions (including the University of Notre Dame, the Archdiocese of New York and the Catholic University of America) filed suit against the Obama administration, declaring “fundamental rights hang in the balance.”

The president of the Catholic University declared, “In the end the university, its employees and its students will be forced to pay for the prescriptions and services we find objectionable.”

Meanwhile, media coverage for this unprecedented lawsuit–apparently the largest religious lawsuit in history–has been woefully lacking in the prime-time networks. Media watchdog Brent Bozell said, “This is the worst bias by omission I have seen in the quarter century history of the Media Research Center.”

He added, “The fact is that the Catholic Church has unleashed legal Armageddon on the administration, promising ‘we will not comply’ with a health law that strips Catholics of their religious liberty. If this isn’t ‘news’ then there’s no such thing as news.”

It is interesting to note how many non-Catholics realize what’s at stake in this fight. For example, Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptists said that instead of a letter from the Birmingham Jail (referring to MLK’s 1963 missive, voicing civil disobedience), there may have to a letter from the Nashville Jail (Dr. Land’s residence). Mike Huckabee, Baptist minister, said, “We’re all Catholics now.”

If the administration (or any administration) gets away with denying the sacred right of conscience to any group, then all Americans should be concerned, regardless of your religious persuasion.

In the totalitarian context of Nazi Germany, Luther pastor Martin Niemoller (who ended up in a concentration camp as a dissident) famously said: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.” Obviously, our situation is far removed from a totalitarian context. But the principle of the slippery slope applies. Today religious freedom is denied the Catholics, tomorrow the evangelicals, the next day, the Jews, etc.

Whether we like it or not, contraceptives and the abortion-inducing drugs are legal and available. But why should anybody be forced to pay for something against his or her conscience? It’s unconscionable.

As a student of American history, one can clearly see the importance of freedom of conscience to the vast majority of the first settlers and founders of our nation. After the War for Independence, George Washington wrote a letter to some Quakers in Pennsylvania, noting that he was disappointed not to have had their help in the conflict, but he respected their sacred right of conscience because their religion prohibited them from picking up arms.

About eighty years before that, William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, wrote: “Almighty God being the only Lord of Conscience…” declaring that no one should suffer for his religious convictions.

Protecting the sacred right of conscience is one of the foundational ideals of the American experiment.

About sixty years before Penn established his colony, Rev. Roger Williams (the Puritan who out-Puritaned the Puritans) founded the first true home for complete religious liberty in America, the colony of Rhode Island. Williams noted: “I desired it might be for a shelter for persons distressed for conscience.”

Jumping ahead to one of our key founding fathers, James Madison, he once declared, “The Civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of Conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.”

Thomas Jefferson said, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

In modern America, there’s no excuse at all for people to suffer for conscience sake. Mr. Obama, rescind the HHS mandate—for conscience sake.