Tag Archives: religious liberty

Five highlights of the Holy Father’s U.S. visit

Looking back over Pope Francis’ recent three-city U.S. visit, packed with a whopping 24 official events along with the  many unofficial encounters, it is difficult to summarize the “takeaway” in just a few points.

Thomas D. Williams

Thomas D. Williams

For most Americans, what characterized Francis’ trip more than anything else was his person-to-person contact with the millions that came out to see him. Yet Francis did bring with him a series of messages to the Church in America. Here are five of the key points:

1. The Pope calls religious liberty “one of America’s most precious possessions.” If any one point can be called the hallmark of the Pope’s trip, it would be the question of religious liberty. Francis beat the drum of religious freedom from the moment he opened his mouth in Washington until the moment he landed in Rome. He encouraged Americans to be vigilant “to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”

He also met with the Little Sisters of the Poor to show his support for the nuns who have been engaged in a major legal battle against the Obama administration’s HHS contraception mandate. He also underscored the essential distinction between true religious freedom and a watered down “freedom of worship,” which would take religion out of public life and confine it within church walls.

2. The Pope asserts the sacredness of all human life. The Holy Father threw his weight behind the pro-life cause, asserting on various occasions the inviolability of human life in all stages of development. Pope Francis told a joint session of the U.S. Congress that the Golden Rule is a “yardstick” that “reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”

Doubling down on the life issue, he appealed to the natural moral law before the United Nations General Assembly to assert the sacredness of every human life, including that of the unborn. He called for “absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions.” The Pope carried this pro-life ethic over into the area of capital punishment, advocating its abolishment.

3. He meets with sexual abuse victims. Following the meeting, Francis promised “zealous vigilance” to protect minors and to bring to justice those responsible for this crime. “Etched into my heart are the stories, the suffering and the pain of the young people sexually abused by priests,” he said. “I am overwhelmed with shame thinking that those who in their charge, the tender care of these little ones, violated this trust, causing them grave harm.”

A noteworthy aspect of the Pope’s meeting with abuse victims was the inclusion of several people abused by family members and other acquaintances. The message that sexual abuse isn’t a problem limited to Catholic clergy was an important one to drive home.

4. Francis canonizes Junípero Serra, urging all Christians to be missionaries. In the first canonization ceremony ever to take place on American soil, Pope Francis lifted Serra to sainthood and held up the missionary as a model for all Christians. “Go out to the highways and byways,” Francis said. “Go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living. Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father.”

5. The Pope praises the free market. In a remarkable role reversal, Francis took advantage of his historic address to Congress to lecture politicians on the importance of wealth creation for lifting the poor out of poverty. He held up hard-working members of the middle class as an example to all, while praising the free market system. It is “the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work” who sustain the life of society.

But his most striking words came when speaking about the ability of the free market to lift people out of poverty. A key element in fighting poverty is “the creation and distribution of wealth,” as well as “harnessing the spirit of enterprise. … Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world.”

There were, of course, many other extraordinary moments during the visit, but these alone offer much to ponder. One way or another, Pope Francis changed both Americans and the Pope himself.

His message, the authentic piety in his liturgical celebrations, his Christ-like love for the poor and disadvantaged had to soften all but the hardest of hearts. And the American spirit of religiosity, charity, generosity and industriousness obviously left an indelible mark on Francis as well.

THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, Ph.D., is a permanent research fellow at Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture and the author of 15 books, including “The World As It Could Be: Catholic Social Thought for a New Generation” (Crossroad, 2011).

Religious liberty in jeopardy

Professor Dr. Robert P. George holds Princeton University’s celebrated McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence. He is also the founding director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. He is chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and has authored several books, including What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense and Conjugal Union: What Marriage Is and Why it Matters. Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga spoke with him.

Robert George

Robert George

What is the state of religious liberty today in the United States?

It is deteriorating under pressure from the current administration in Washington, D.C., and liberal governors and other public officials around the country. Despite the Supreme Court victory in the Hobby Lobby case, the administration continues its war to impose its contraception and abortion drug mandates on business owners and institutions — including religious institutions — that cannot in conscience comply with them.

I must say that its campaign against the Little Sisters of the Poor is especially grotesque. What’s more, efforts are in full gear across the country to require Catholic and other pro-life health care facilities, doctors, nurses, and others to perform, participate in, or at least refer for abortions.

Similar efforts are ramping up to force health care facilities and workers to participate in assisted suicides. Then there are the pressures against religious liberty motivated by people who cannot abide moral opposition to same-sex sexual partners or the redefinition of marriage.

How will the redefinition of marriage affect religious liberty?

Even before the Supreme Court decision, which was a disgrace, the assault on religious liberty in the name of “gay rights” was far advanced. For example, Catholic Charities had been driven out of adoption and foster care services in Massachusetts, Illinois, and the District of Columbia. All Catholic Charities was asking for was permission to continue its decades-long service of providing good homes for orphaned children — homes in which the boys and girls would have the benefit of both a mom and a dad.

But to remain in business, the governments insisted that Catholic Charities be willing to place children in same-sex partner headed households. Of course, Catholic Charities, being Catholic, could not in good conscience do such a thing. So now they are out of business. You will see more of this. And you will see other attacks on Catholic and other faith-based institutions. Catholic schools, universities, and other institutions will be compelled to treat people in legally recognized same-sex “marriages” as married.

What will happen to individuals and organizations that don’t go along with the redefinition of marriage?

Those who don’t will be subjected to lawsuits or to discrimination in accreditation, licensing, and government contracting. Since the Church will not bless or perform same-sex “marriages,” it’s entirely possible that its tax-exempt status will be taken away. Of course, we have already seen what is done to private business owners and individuals who provide flowers, catering, photography, and the like for weddings when they politely decline, as a matter of conscience, to participate in same-sex ceremonies. They are prosecuted or successfully sued for money damages.

The sexual liberation/same-sex “marriage” movement has made clear that it will brook no opposition and tolerate no dissent. And the movement owns one political party, has made inroads into the other, and has many reliable friends in the federal and state courts. All of this is very bad news for religious freedom and the rights of conscience

What can we do to broaden religious liberty rights?

Elect people to office who believe in religious liberty and will stand up for it. Elect a president and governors who will appoint to the bench jurists who will uphold the right to religious freedom. Work for the enactment of First Amendment Defense Acts at both the federal and state levels.

These acts protect people against discrimination based on their beliefs about marriage. Oppose and defeat any and every proposal to revise civil rights laws to include protections for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

These so-called SOGI laws sound innocuous but they are among the main weapons by which the opponents of religious freedom hope to destroy it. Cheering for these laws, as some Catholics foolishly do, really is like turkeys cheering for Thanksgiving.


Religious freedom and the family

MONSIGNOR JOSEPH SCHAEDEL writes that Catholics must stand for religious liberty . . .

Monsignor Joseph Schaedel

Monsignor Joseph Schaedel

by Monsignor Joseph Schaedel

It’s obvious that one of the greatest threats to our Catholic ideal of marriage and family is the absurd notion that the government or the courts can redefine marriage. God defined it permanently thousands of years ago.

Those who follow the news have heard of the political war in my state of Indiana over our RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act). I’ve always lived in Indiana, and I have never seen such a political circus in my life! Many people have asked me about the RFRA, but I sort of avoided the question. I’m not afraid to discuss the religious freedom law, but I’m not interested in talking about it with people who have no idea what they’re talking about — or who have no interest in knowing the facts.

In each case, when I was questioned, I asked the inquirer if they had read the bill. So far not one of them has. I learned the hard way back in grade school that it’s not a good idea to report on or even discuss a book or article you’ve never read. Trying to do so makes you look stupid.

When I was ordained a priest 33 years ago, never in my wildest dreams did I think we would see clergy being forced to officiate at “weddings” that directly contradict the minister’s own faith. Nor did I ever imagine the president of the United States and his administration dragging the Little Sisters of the Poor into court so as to force them to pay for objectionable medical procedures and products that cause abortions.

The controversy swirling around Indiana’s RFRA made constant use of the word “discrimination.” We need to make a distinction between “discrimination” and “unjust discrimination.” We all discriminate. We discriminate between Coke and Pepsi, Shell and Exxon, the choices discriminating parents make for families about schools, and so forth.

The Catholic Church discriminates: Non-Catholics may not receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass. Persons previously married may not remarry in the Catholic Church unless they receive a Church annulment. Women may not be ordained. We’re not the only ones: Only Mormons may enter the Mormon Temple. Only celibate Orthodox priests can become Orthodox bishops. And so on.

Unjust discrimination is something else. This is when we decide against or in favor of someone for reasons which violate the human dignity and rights of that person (made in God’s image) often on the basis of race, color, or creed. And nowadays we are aware that it’s often done on the basis of religion, gender or sexual identity.

The sad part is that unjust discrimination is all around us. Catholics are at the top of the list. For example, at the end of March, Toronto’s city council voted to bar a woman from the Toronto public health board because of “her Catholic views.” Did you read this in the mainstream media or see it on any major news network? Of course not. And you won’t. This is nothing new. A dozen years ago, a non-Catholic author named Philip Jenkins wrote a book called The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice (Oxford University Press, 2003).

There are innumerable instances of unjust discrimination against other religious groups and various groups of people. A major difference is that most don’t have huge amounts of money — like some groups do — to pay big public relations firms to stir up people in sympathy for our plight.

A case in point would be the current ruckus against the archbishop of San Francisco. The archbishop wants to make sure that all Catholic high school teachers live, work and teach in such a way that does not contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church. His opponents are spending lots of money on high-profile professional PR firms to oppose him.

The Catholic Church teaches that all unjust discrimination and prejudice is clearly wrong; it is sinful. Of course, the spotlight in our current Indiana situation seems to be on persons of same-sex attraction and those who wish to redefine marriage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has three specific sections referring to homosexual persons. The Catechism clearly states that “they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (# 2358).

Family and marriage are sacred; they cannot be “redefined.” But anyone who thinks they might be able to hide behind the federal RFRA or Indiana’s RFRA in order to unjustly discriminate anybody is out of luck. They need to read not only the RFRA, but also the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

MONSIGNOR JOSEPH F. SCHAEDEL is the chaplain of Legatus’ Indianapolis Chapter and pastor of St. Luke Catholic Church in Indianapolis.

Awaiting Francis

Will the Holy Father tackle the tough issues when he visits the United States? . . . 

by Judy Roberts

As excitement builds for Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States in September, many Catholics are hoping the Holy Father will seize the opportunity to speak out on the issues that most concern them.

During his six-day trip, Pope Francis will address Congress and the United Nations, meet with President Obama, and preside over the first World Meeting of Families to take place in North America. Each venue would seem to offer him a platform for concerns like the plight of persecuted Christians, threats to religious freedom and the family, and the dangers inherent in embracing contraception and abortion.

Meeting with Obama

Leonard Leo

Leonard Leo

What the Holy Father will say remains to be seen. According to a White House statement, the Pope’s Sept. 23 meeting with President Obama will cover such issues as “caring for the marginalized and the poor, advancing economic opportunity for all, serving as good stewards of the environment, protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom around the world, and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities.”

However, parts of the Pope’s conversation with President Obama are likely to be private, giving the Holy Father an opportunity to discuss concerns that are not necessarily on the agenda.

Leonard Leo, a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter, said the Pope and the President obviously share some similar perspectives on economic and immigration issues. However, Leo said he hopes the meeting will focus on areas where there is not agreement, such as the sanctity of human life, the natural moral order in relation to marriage, and freedom of conscience.

“We’re having a crisis in our country on the issue of conscience,” Leo said. “I think that the Holy Father having a dialogue with the President on that issue would be very useful. It may or may not have an impact, but I think it’s important.”

Leo, who is executive vice president of the Federalist Society and co-founder of the Catholic Association and the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, said he also thinks the Holy Father will be in a good position to articulate the underpinnings of the Church’s teachings on life and traditional marriage, which are not widely understood.

Leo said he also hopes that Pope Francis will be able to discuss religious freedom with President Obama.

“The President’s vision is freedom of worship,” he said. “He’s perfectly happy to have us say our prayers in the pews. He’s not particularly happy with seeing religion in the public square, and America has a long history of embracing freedom of religion, which pertains to freedom of conscience.”

Religious freedom and the U.N.

Austin Ruse

Austin Ruse

Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, said he expects that the Holy Father will challenge President Obama on a broader understanding of religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

“Religious freedom is certainly ripe for conversation,” he said, both in the context of Christian businesses that want the right to refuse participation in same-sex weddings and those that object to providing abortifacient contraceptives in their health plans.

Ruse, whose group monitors and seeks to affect social policy debate at the United Nations, said when Pope Francis visits the U.N. on Sept. 25, he would not anticipate him talking about abortion, population control and contraception — concerns that are known to roil the international body. At the same time, he said, he will be disappointed if the Pope doesn’t mention them.

“He already says that we shouldn’t obsess on these types of issues, so I suspect that he will follow his own advice, which will be unfortunate because the African countries in particular are most upset at the imposition of this radical sexual ideology on their countries by U.N. agencies and western non-governmental organizations.”

Ruse said Pope Francis will likely talk about the environment, poverty, global inequality, human rights, and perhaps the plight of Christians in Africa and the Middle East — issues of concern to the U.N. on which the Holy Father has spoken.

“All these are very good things,” Ruse explained. “Tucked in among them I would love to hear him talk about what he himself has referred to as the gender ideology, which is being imposed on the developing world by western elites.”

On his return flight from the Philippines earlier this year, the Pope warned wealthy western nations against forcing this ideology — which holds that gender is not biological, but cultural — on developing nations by tying it to foreign aid and education.

Leo said the most important issue the Pope can address at the U.N. concerns what the international community is going to do about the persecution of Christians around the world. Neither the U.N. Council on Human Rights nor the General Assembly is doing enough about it, he said. “That’s what the Church can bring to bear at a meeting of the U.N. because we can speak with persuasive force and expertise.”

World Meeting of Families

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia — where the Pope will take part in the World Meeting of Families from Sept. 26-27 — told Legatus magazine it’s obvious that family life is a signature concern of Francis’ pontificate.

In light of that, he said, “I think the Pope will press Catholics to take their faith more seriously and to conform their hearts and their behaviors to the truth of Catholic teaching about the family. That’s the only guarantee of a healthy family, and healthy families are the only guarantee of a healthy and humane society.”

Added Ruse: “I think it’s going to be a remarkable moment for him to speak to American Catholics about the importance of family and religious belief.” Ruse said he hopes the Pope is in a “rally-the-troops” mood because it’s a time when the American people are in need of leaders who will lead, particularly in the wake of court actions that have overturned the will of the people expressed in votes to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Archbishop Chaput said he thinks Francis’ popularity means his U.S. visit will have a positive effect on Catholics who have drifted from the faith.

“Our work will begin after the Pope returns to Rome,” he said. “We need to live the kind of Christian witness that will draw alienated people more deeply back into the Church.”

JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.

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Religious liberty on the line

Legate CHARLES LiMANDRI leads a landmark David-versus-Goliath case in New Jersey . . .

Charles LiMandri

Charles LiMandri

by Brian Fraga

This summer, a jury in New Jersey will hear arguments in Ferguson v. JONAH, which promises to be one of the most important religious liberty cases in years.

In a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, the left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is using New Jersey’s state Consumer Fraud Act against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), a religious nonprofit that works with and helps people who are struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction to find counseling.

Assisted by the SPLC, four former JONAH clients and their mothers are suing the nonprofit, partially on grounds that JONAH commits consumer fraud by claiming that people can overcome same-sex desires and that homosexual behavior itself is disordered.

Charles LiMandri, president and chief counsel for the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, is defending JONAH. A member of Legatus’ San Diego Chapter, LiMandri spoke with Legatus magazine about the upcoming trial — and the possible ramifications for Catholics who hold fast to Church teachings on same-sex behavior.

When and where will the trial be held?

The trial is scheduled to begin June 1 in Jersey City, N.J. Because this is such an important and controversial case, the judge is going to have us show up on May 29 to start selecting a jury.

What is this trial about? What is at stake?

Basically what we have is the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is probably the most extreme liberal group in the country, filing a lawsuit that they themselves call a first of its kind in the history of the United States. And indeed it is.

They think they can get a judicial ruling to silence organized religion and say that God is wrong on homosexuality. It’s the first case of its kind where they’ve gone after people for having an opposing worldview because they believe that worldview to be oppressive and hurtful.

The SPLC’s lawsuit violates the basic right to self-determination and it sets the stage for outlawing counseling that the Left does not like, including counseling by the clergy. We have to stop them here, or we are going to be fighting them all over the country. They are poised to take this nationwide.

How do you plan to argue this case?

A major theme for us, which we believe is going to resonate even with liberals, is that this is case all about the right to self-determination, free choice and free will. The other side is trying to stop people who have any opposition to homosexual behavior. The position of the Southern Poverty Law Center now is to declare that nobody should have the right to say that.

The Consumer Fraud Act has never been used to further an ideological viewpoint. It was written to stop the sale of fraudulent consumer products or fraudulent services.

We believe we can and will win this one as long as we don’t get our hands tied by unfair court rulings. As we stand, I’m confident we have a winning case because we have the truth on our side, and the party with the truth on their side, in my experience, will win 80% of the time.

What are the religious liberty implications? What could be the impact of this case?

The SPLC lawsuit is a direct attack on religious liberty. The SPLC has targeted on its website 70 other organizations — including Catholic, Evangelical and Mormon organizations — and they are soliciting people to sue these organizations now if they win the case. I predict $100 million in legal fees will be generated by people suing these organizations.

It’s a very important case in terms of the direction of our society. They’re going to trumpet the case as though it’s at the U.S. Supreme Court and, who knows, the case could end up there. The case will almost certainly go up on appeal. It’s going to end up making some kind of law at the appellate level.

Whoever wins at the trial court level is going to have a tremendous platform to trumpet to the rest of the world either a major victory or a major defeat because the issues are so very important.

With an endowment of more than $300 million, the Southern Poverty Law Center is well-funded and well-staffed with attorneys. How much of a factor has their financial strength been in bringing the case to trial?

We can’t compete with their money. Producing thousands of documents and conducting 40 depositions in 12 states is expensive. It’s been a huge undertaking for us to take this to trial.

It really is a David-versus-Goliath situation. I’m basically going month-to-month, bringing this case to trial by the grace of God through donations. Money is a big issue for us with volunteer attorneys and people working for the bare minimum. I’m talking close to minimum wage. But I have attorneys helping me out because they realize how important this is.

BRIAN FRAGA is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.

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Time to step up our game

Patrick Novecosky writes that the fight for religious liberty has only just begun . . .

Patrick Novecosky

Patrick Novecosky

In mid-July, I’ll meet my fourth son. While preparing this issue of the magazine, it occurred to me that even though he hasn’t been born, he’s got a tough road ahead of him.

This is our annual Family issue. We decided to dedicate an issue to family a couple of years ago when it was clear that this was a new front in the culture wars. The family has been under attack since Cain slew his brother, but secularists opened this front in a new way a few years ago by attempting to redefine marriage.

Clear-thinking people across the country responded by passing dozens of state constitutional amendments to define marriage as it always has been — one man and one woman. When it was put to the voting public to decide what marriage was, in every case for many years in a row, they chose correctly.

In 2004, President George W. Bush endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples because he thought the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was vulnerable. But he dropped the campaign since most U.S. senators thought DOMA would survive a constitutional challenge.

But the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA in June 2013. Ever since then, federal judges have been striking down voter-approved state constitutional amendments. This judicial activism has incensed conservatives and many faith leaders. The next move for true marriage advocates seems to be a long-term strategy to change as many hearts and minds as possible.

The challenges, however, are daunting. Just last month, Danish parliament passed a law forcing the established Evangelical Lutheran Church to perform same-sex “marriage.” The Catholic bishop of Copenhagen told Vatican Radio that he’s worried the Catholic Church may be forced to perform such “marriage” ceremonies in the future.

How far behind is such Draconian legislation in the United States? The way the culture is rapidly shifting, it may be in my lifetime if we don’t turn the tide soon. Several articles in this issue address these challenges, but none sound the alarm louder than Sen. Rick Santorum’s address to Legatus at the 2014 Summit. (Click here for a related story.) He makes it clear that the other side is winning because we have refused to fight.

The world we’re leaving our children may be better materially and technologically, but certainly not spiritually and morally. The challenges my children — in particular my youngest — will face are beyond my comprehension. That’s why my wife and I take their formation so seriously. In the interim, we’re doing everything we can to change the culture. For their sake we all need to step up our game.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor-in-chief of Legatus magazine.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Daniel Michael Novecosky was born on July 14, 2014. Mother and baby are doing exceedingly well.

Daniel Michael Novecosky

Daniel Michael Novecosky

Post-Christian America

Patrick Novecosky writes that America’s Christians roots have eroded considerably . . .

Patrick Novecosky

President Obama drew fire in 2008 for saying that America was no longer a “Christian nation.” With his reelection last month, many are beginning to realize that he might have been right. In November, four states rejected traditional marriage, and Florida voters rejected an amendment that would have protected religious liberty.

Obama has, quite literally, declared war on Christianity in America. Earlier this year, the President targeted Catholics with the Health and Human Services mandate that forces Catholic employers to provide employees with free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs. The bishops responded with a successful Fortnight for Freedom last summer. A great number of bishops spoke adamantly against voting for the man. Yet Obama still garnered 50% of the Catholic vote (42% of “active Catholics” voted for him).

Faithful Catholics were left angry and confused by the results — and rightly so. Many conservative pundits have weighed in on how to explain the outcome. My theory is relatively simple. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught about the Beatitudes. One of them sticks out for me: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.” Sadly, few Americans (Catholics included) fit that description today. A majority of Catholics have abandoned the sacraments — particularly Confession — and embraced a hedonistic secular culture.

Few seem to realize how profoundly sin blinds us to the truth. It cuts us off from God and from knowing that our eternal destiny is either heaven or hell. When our hearts and minds are clouded by sin, then logic, reason and truth become irrelevant. As a nation, we suffer from spiritual blindness and no longer recognize many self-evident truths. The Catechism teaches that “by deviating from the moral law, man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth” (CCC #1740).

As Fr. C. John McCloskey III wrote so eloquently earlier this year, “America needs witness, not enthusiasm. The United States will either become predominantly Catholic in numbers, faith, and morals or perish under the weight of its unbridled hedonism and corruption.”

We who fully embrace the truth must seize this Year of Faith. This may be our best opportunity to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ and our understanding of that truth taught by the Catholic Church. Then we must go out boldly into the world and let the light of Christ shine through us. After all, Jesus said that we are the light of the world.

Patrick Novecosky is Legatus’ magazine’s editor-in-chief.

Assessing Obama’s assault on religious liberty

Fr. Thomas Berg contends that Catholics must resist Obama’s immoral mandate . . .

Fr. Thomas Berg

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a final rule on Jan. 20 requiring all insurers to include free coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization procedures and prescription contraceptives in their insurance plans — including those sponsored by employers. All of these “preventive services” are instrumental to engaging in intrinsically evil actions, as consistently taught by the Catholic Church.

On Feb. 10, President Obama announced that the administration would pursue an “accommodation” to address objections to the HHS mandate. He did so by principally removing the employer from the equation, shifting the cost of the objectionable coverage from the employer to insurance companies.

The outcry from a broad spectrum of Americans of both political parties, a plethora of religious affiliations, and most notably from the Catholic bishops under the leadership of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, has been powerful. With great effect, the bishops have insisted that the administration’s assault on the religious liberty of some is an assault on the religious liberty of all. Nor will the bishops tolerate a solution that exempts Catholic institutions while leaving tens of thousands of religiously minded and conscientious individual employers without recourse.

Proponents of the mandate have suggested that insurance companies could rely on health cost savings that would accrue due to the availability of the “preventive services.” But the vast majority of analysts believe that the very real costs of providing “free” services in insurance will be passed on to the employers in form of higher premiums. Now three months into the controversy, experts can envision no scenario relying on insurance to cover these services which disentangles religiously affiliated employers sufficiently to satisfy Catholic moral concerns. In greater detail, here’s why.

The government intends to force insurers to cover these products and services even though the contract between the insurer and employer excludes them. Thus, from the perspective of a Catholic employer, if it chooses to offer health insurance to its workers, it will know in advance that this coverage pays for the problematic products and services. The government is leaving no way around this problem because it is insisting that the mechanism for providing “free contraception” to the public must be the insurance system.

Consequently, it remains the case that when a Catholic employer chooses to offer insurance, it will, by definition, trigger insurance coverage for the very same objectionable products and services. That is, employees will have access to these proscribed services and products in virtue of the contract between employer and insurance company. Thus, the Catholic employer is left in the position of either accepting to be a key cog in the process of facilitating access to gravely immoral practices or of not providing health insurance at all to its workers.

That “being a key cog in the process” is termed in Catholic moral theology as “material cooperation” (as opposed to “formal cooperation,” which would mean willfully being a cog in an evil endeavor — like the get-away driver in a bank robbery). Conscientious Catholic employers who wish to be faithful to Catholic moral teaching would certainly not approve of their insurance policies covering these services (that would be formal cooperation), but by acquiescing to the mandate they would find themselves in this position of materially cooperating. The Church teaches that material cooperation can at times be licitly tolerated in view of very serious reasons. Is the provision of health insurance to employees a serious enough reason to allow for this degree of complicity?

The evident moral good of providing health insurance to employees (with all the attendant benefits) does not supersede the grave moral requirements of upholding religious liberty, protecting the life of the unborn and witnessing to the world about the right ordering of human sexuality. While the provision of health insurance by employers is certainly in full harmony with Catholic social teaching, it is not — nor have the bishops of this country ever taught that it is — a positive moral obligation of Catholic employers. Of course, in 2014 and beyond, employers will have even less of an obligation to provide insurance to their workers as the government will have set up by then an alternative insurance access point in every state.

But what a tragedy it would be for any Catholic employer to have to face such a choice. Before it comes to that, it is our hope, rather, that reason will prevail through the voices of concerned citizens all across this country. We must continue to reject empty offers of “accommodation” and demand rescission of this unconstitutional, unlawful and immoral regulation.

Rev. Thomas V. Berg is a member of the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law and professor of moral theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. James C. Capretta is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

A threat to conscience

How the Obama administration’s contraception mandate affects you and your business . . .

As president of Heartbeat International, Peggy Hartshorn could face a moral dilemma if a provision of the new federal health-care law remains unchanged.

Under mandates adopted Aug. 1 for private insurance plans – and hailed by Planned Parenthood, which lobbied for them as “preventive services” – Heartbeat and other faith-based organizations with employee health-insurance plans will be required to provide full coverage for surgical sterilization and prescription contraceptives, including drugs that can cause abortions.

Weak exemption

The mandates also affect hospitals, charitable institutions, universities and schools with employee health programs — many of them religiously affiliated. Some plans initially will be grandfathered in, but eventually they’re expected to lose their exemption as changes are made to them.

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said the bishops’ employee plan, for example, can continue as is until significant changes are made. Ultimately, however, the intent is that every plan in the country must comply with the mandates, he said.

Furthermore, organizations that object to the requirements on religious or moral grounds can only be exempted if they are nonprofit organizations having as their purpose the inculcation of religious values — and only if they employ and serve primarily those who share their beliefs.

That would leave out an organization like Heartbeat, which provides pregnant women with alternatives to abortion, regardless of their religious beliefs.

“It’s almost no exemption at all,” said Matt Bowman, legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). “It’s unprecedented in federal law to claim that almost no one is a religious entity. I think a lot of religious entities would be surprised to find that the Obama administration doesn’t think they are religious because they serve people who don’t have the same faith.”

Doerflinger agreed. “Only if you stop helping people are you considered religious enough to be exempt. It’s just the opposite of our notion of our faith.”

“What’s bothersome to me is this puts people in a Catch 22,” added Catholic League president Bill Donohue. “According to the wisdom of the Obama administration, because you’re not serving almost exclusively Catholic clientele, it’s a problem.”


Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, has called the mandates “a new threat to conscience,” adding that without sufficient legal protection for conscience rights, all Americans will be forced to carry health coverage that violates the moral and religious convictions of many.

Cardinal DiNardo is encouraging legislators to support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and in the Senate by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). The bill would amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) to protect conscience rights regarding mandates for coverage of specific items and services.

Doerflinger said the legislation provides that no mandates under the health-care act can be used to prevent insurers, purchasers or sponsors of insurance from negotiating a plan in accord with their moral or religious convictions. Currently, he said, any organization has the right to ask a private insurer to exclude certain things from coverage.

“All we’re doing is trying to maintain the status quo,” he said.

Kathleen Sebelius

Heartbeat’s Hartshorn, a member of Legatus’ board of governors, said the mandates should have been expected given the views of President Barack Obama and Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services.

“It’s very clear how strongly in the camp of Planned Parenthood and abortion providers Sebelius has always been,” Hartshorn said. “She is a major proponent of birth control and abortion. When she became head of Health and Human Services we expected the worst, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but [the mandates] did take me aback.”

In announcing the new guidelines, Sebelius, who says she’s Catholic, called them “historic.” The mandates, she said, “are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need.”

However, Bowman countered, “Pregnancy is not a disease and these things are not preventive health care in the first place.”

Religious freedom

Meanwhile, those who oppose the mandates have submitted comments to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) arguing for an expansion of the religious exemption. The department accepted comments on the definition of a religious employer in the new rules for a 60-day period that ended on Sept. 30.

Chuck Donovan, a member of Heartbeat International’s board and senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said the HHS invitation for comment doesn’t necessarily suggest the department is willing to make changes.

“In fact,” he said, “the administration is doing other things to suggest that narrowing religious exemptions is their intent.”

ADF’s Bowman believes that forcing Christians and pro-life organizations to cover abortifacient drugs and devices over their objections would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. In addition, he said, some of the contraceptives covered by the mandate, particularly ella, can cause very early first trimester abortions.

“Those were not supposed to be part of the health insurance overhaul,” he said.

Doerflinger said the USCCB contends that the mandates represent a violation of religious freedom as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Barring Congressional action, he expects Catholic organizations will challenge the mandates in court.

If the religious exemption is not changed, Doerflinger said an employer who objects to the mandates would find that all available health-care plans provide full coverage for contraception and sterilization. “So his choice would be between buying a plan that violates his values and no plan at all,” he said.

If he chose the latter, Doerflinger said, a fine would be imposed and employees would be directed to health-care exchanges where their only choice would be to buy a plan with contraceptive coverage. In that case, the employer who objected to such coverage on moral grounds would end up subsidizing the very same care through his penalty.

“At a time when tens of millions of Americans still don’t have basic health coverage, to be mandating that all plans have to cover these controversial elective procedures is a very skewed sense of priorities,” Doerflinger said. “Our position has always been that everyone must have access to basic health coverage. Nothing should take precedence over everyone getting access to basic life-affirming services. This certainly does not qualify.”

Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.