Tag Archives: secularism

Birth control pretext for destroying religious liberty

Wesley Smith blasts the HHS mandate, saying the ultimate target is Christian morality . . .

Wesley J. Smith

Wesley J. Smith

Government secularism is on the march against religion, and its generals have announced they intend to take few prisoners. For proof, look no further than the Free Birth Control Rule (as I call it) promulgated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This rule requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide coverage for free contraception, sterilization, and morning-after pills — even if it violates their religious beliefs. A very narrow conscience exemption was carved out for churches with religious objections. But two other categories of dissenting employers must comply despite their faith objections: religious organizations (such as universities and hospitals) and private business owners.

Nonprofit religious organizations: When first announced, the FBCR would have required Catholic universities, schools, charities, and other non-profits to offer employees free contraception just like any business. That sparked a political firestorm, causing the Obama administration to delay implementation for these groups until Aug. 1 of this year with the promise of devising a reasonable compromise.

That proposal is now in, and it is all sleight of hand. The administration still requires all female employees (and eligible dependents, meaning teenage girls, among others) of these objecting organizations to be covered for free contraception — like it or not. Here’s how the “accommodation” will work:

• Nonprofit religious employers must comply with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act and purchase a general group health plan.
• The employer must certify to its insurance carrier that it objects to contraception for religious reasons.
• The health insurance carrier then must “automatically enroll participants and beneficiaries in a separate health insurance policy that covers recommended contraceptive services.”
• The insurance carrier must provide this supplemental policy to these girls and women free of charge.

Thus, the mere act of purchasing health insurance — required by law — automatically triggers forced free coverage for contraception. This means that in many cases, even nuns will have to be insured for birth control, with the only opt-out breaking the law by refusing to buy health insurance, which triggers a stiff fine. Any concomitant harm caused to employees will be the government’s fault for forcing dissenting faith employers to choose between offering benefits and violating their religious beliefs.

Private business owners: The Obama administration’s attempt to force its moral values upon private business owners is even more onerous. Not only are business men and women forced to pay out of their own pockets for that which they perceive to be sinful, but the administration contends that business owners sacrifice their religious liberties in operating their enterprises simply by seeking profit Scores of business owners have sued, so far with mixed results. The cases primarily hinge on the applicability of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that the government prove it has a “compelling state interest” when legally forcing individuals to violate their faith tenets.

To get around the RFRA, the Department of Justice argues that business owners cannot “practice religion” in the commercial context. Or to put it another way, the administration believes that business is a religion-free zone. That’s only part of the Obama secularizing agenda. In another radical move, the DOJ argues that by standing up for religious liberty, dissenting business owners are actually forcing their religion on workers. In other words, the administration has recast business owners as theocratic tyrants.

That’s topsy-turvy. Refuse-to-pay is not synonymous with prevent-from-obtaining. Dissenting business owners are not preventing their female workers from using birth control simply because they won’t pay for it.

Ironically, the administration is attempting to impose its ideology on religious dissenting business owners and religious organizations. The DOJ argues that forcing all employers to provide free contraception (one way or the other) is essential to secure “equal access … to goods, privileges, and advantages” that otherwise are denied females due to the “unique health care burdens and responsibilities” borne by women.

Birth control isn’t the real issue. There is an important principle at stake. Indeed, once a legal precedent is established, one day there could be a free abortion rule, a free IVF rule, or a free sex-change operation rule. And it wouldn’t end with health-related issues, either. In the end, the administration is using birth control as the blade that sacrifices religious liberty on the altar of naked secularism.

WESLEY J. SMITH is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

Pope Benedict’s fruitful UK visit

The furor over the Pope’s pastoral visit died down the moment he arrived . . .

Paul Burnell

Paul Burnell

If you’ve ever spent more than a few days in the United Kingdom, you’ve likely noticed that it’s a decidedly secular culture. Pope Benedict XVI wanted to make a dent in that secularism with his four-day visit to England and Scotland last September.

The trip, which drew media criticism when it was first announced, turned out to be a hit from the time the Pope’s airplane touched down. The Holy Father “challenged the whole country to sit up and think,” British Prime Minister David Cameron concluded. Many of those who started “thinking” were Anglicans. Last month, three Anglican bishops entered the Catholic Church and were subsequently ordained to the priesthood. These bishops were among thousands who have responded to protocols the Vatican put in place last fall for Anglicans who have asked to join the Church.

The exodus to the Catholic Church began years ago, but was predicted by England’s Cardinal Basil Hume in 1992 when the Church of England voted to ordain women ministers. The cardinal got himself into an ecumenical bother by saying the resulting defection of Anglicans, including clergy, could be the “conversion” of England. The Episcopal spin doctors tried to imply that His Eminence had “misspoke” and, as one bishop put it, “Basil went over the top, but we managed to rein him in.”

But Cardinal Hume’s words were never really fulfilled. A wave of clerics and lay people took the path to Rome, but there was little sign of the conversion of England. In the bishops’ subsequent ad limina visits following the decision to allow female Anglican ministers, Pope John Paul II told English bishops to “be generous” when receiving convert vicars. The most high-profile conversion was the late Graham Leonard, Bishop of London, who was warmly received. However, it was an open secret that some Catholic dioceses were seen as no-go areas by would-be convert clerics. And liberal parishes were none too appealing to some would-be lay converts.

Two decades later, however, Cardinal Hume is looking more like a prophet. In the intervening period, the lines have got clearer. Britain has become increasingly secular. Catholic adoption agencies here have had to close if they don’t want to place children with gay couples. There is an increasing hostility in the media by commentators who have gleefully seized on the abuse crisis.

Even official agencies are havens of liberal intolerance of any Christians. In my hometown, an elderly evangelical couple was arrested for “hate crimes” just for placing literature stating basic Christian teaching on homosexuality in a public library. Anti-Catholicism is alive and well in the U.K.

Ironically, this latent persecution seems to be having the opposite reaction. The JPII/B16 generations are coming to the fore. The Church has its highest number of seminarians in a decade. True, the Catholic Church in the U.K. has a crisis of emptying pews (apart from growing numbers of Polish, Nigerian and Filipino Catholics), of aging priests, and the specter of closed churches. But there are glimmers of hope. When even the timid English bishops talk of retaining our Catholic identity, one wonders if a sea change is on the way.

The impact of Pope Benedict’s visit cannot be underestimated. Prior to the visit, there was open hostility, but even the U.K.’s notorious tabloids were won over by the Holy Father. More to the point, he strengthened and emboldened his own flock. The Pope’s visit ended in people (not just Catholics) lining the streets, and lay Catholics here are feeling less inhibited about their faith.

Listening to a newly consecrated bishop preach recently, I was struck by the sheer joy on the shepherd’s face as he peppered his homily with references to the Holy Father’s visit. Some bishops have referred to a “Benedict bounce” with more people coming to Mass and an increase in questions about the faith. Personally, I think “Benedict bounce” is far too robust a term to be associated with the holy, gentle, humble, intellectual genius that is Pope Benedict XVI.

No sooner had Shepherd One left London than parishioners at Anglican parishes in Kent were making first steps to take advantage of the Pope’s promise to allow the parishes to retain much of their own liturgy. Unlike in the 1990s, Anglicans may have found a more accommodating home which almost bypasses the less-than-enthusiastic members of the U.K. hierarchy.

Indeed, it’s tempting to see a heavenly sign of encouragement in England. Late last year, the Vatican approved the heroic virtues of Passionist Fr. Ignatius Spencer. The significance of this is that Fr. Spencer was probably the highest profile convert to the Church in 19th century England, pre-dating Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. The ancestor of Princess Diana and Winston Churchill, Fr. Spencer came from one of the U.K.’s leading aristocratic families, which created quite a scandal at the time.

It seems possible that the Lord is signaling that an England where the established Church, beset by doctrinal divisions and the very contradictions Newman pointed out, is leaving the door open for the long term return to Rome.

Paul Burnell is a Catholic journalist based in Manchester, U.K. He has written for The National Catholic Register and Catholic World Report.