A few weeks ago I wrote to you about the serious threat to religious liberty in our country. In light of recent events I feel obliged to update you on where things stand. I am referring of course to the Obama administration’s mandate that nearly all Catholic employers must cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans.
On Feb. 10 the White House offered an “accommodation” in response to increasing pressure from many quarters, including many non-Catholic and even non-religious voices, as well as members of the president’s own party.
|Bishop Leonard P. Blair
Upon careful examination, however, it is clear that the president’s “accommodation” does not solve the problem. It has triggered very strong criticism from legal scholars like Notre Dame’s Carter Snead, Harvard’s Mary Ann Glendon, Princeton’s Robert George, Catholic University of America president John Garvey, as well as from non-Catholic scholars like Yuval Levin, the religious liberty law firm The Becket Fund, and from many Catholic and other organizations.
The President has not changed the nationwide mandate for insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-inducing drugs. This is unsupported in law and remains a grave moral concern in itself.
What the president did announce were some changes in how that mandate will be administered, but the full details of these changes will not be finalized until next year, prompting some to express cynicism that the specific details of the “accommodation” will only be known after the election.
What is immediately clear is that conscience protection is still lacking for key stakeholders — for self-insured religious employers; for religious and secular for-profit employers; for secular non-profit employers; for religious insurers; and for individuals. And in the case where an employee and insurer agree to add the objectionable coverage, that coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer’s plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer.
The bishops of the United States are firmly committed to upholding the following principles: First, respect for religious liberty. No government has the right to intrude into the affairs of the church, much less coerce faithful individuals to engage in, or cooperate in any way, with immoral practices. Second, the right of the church, and not the government, to define the church’s religious identity and ministry. And third, opposition to the underlying policy of a government mandate for the purchase or promotion of contraception, sterilization or abortion inducing drugs.
In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not have to negotiate for our freedom. As many commentators have pointed out in recent weeks, this concerns not just the Catholic Church, but every religious body and every voluntary organization in our country.
The only complete solution to this particular religious liberty problem is for the Obama administration to rescind the mandate of objectionable services, and we need to press for that course of action. We also need to look to the other two branches of government for relief. I ask in particular that you contact your elected representatives in Washington and urge them to pass a Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. A version of this bill has already been introduced in Congress. For information and updates please consult our diocesan website and the website of the U.S. Bishops Conference. Hard copy information will also be sent for publication in your parish bulletins.
Thank you for your continuing prayers and support.