May 7, 2012
In the article, “Attack on religious liberty said real concern,” which appeared in the April 30 edition of the Catholic Virginian, you stated that “many Catholics have great concern over a perceived attack on religious liberty by the government mandate which would require employers to cover contraceptive services in insurance policies for their employees.” I’m sorry, but this attack is not “perceived”; it is real, and Catholics should indeed be greatly concerned about it. Our Catholic bishops have said as much in their recently issued pastoral letter entitled, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/our-first-most-cherished-liberty.cfm). In this well-written and timely document, the bishops state the following regarding the HHS mandate: “In an unprecedented way, the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are ‘religious enough’ to merit protection of their religious liberty. These features of the ‘preventive services’ mandate amount to an unjust law.”
The bishops are right to call the mandate “unprecedented” and “unjust.” Never before in American history has the federal government ordered religious institutions to violate their own principles. This is a clear violation of the First Amendment to our Constitution, which forbids Congress from making any law that would prohibit the free exercise of religion. Congress overstepped its bounds by passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, which President Obama signed into law and which requires virtually all employers to include contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in their health insurance plans. The HHS mandate is simply an affirmation of this new law. Hopefully the Supreme Court, which is currently reviewing the PPACA, will do its duty to rule against the legislation behind the mandate. Recognizing its unconstitutional nature, EWTN, Belmont Abbey College and other Catholic institutions that would be impacted by the mandate have rightly filed lawsuits of their own against the Obama administration to stop it.
Only “houses of worship” and narrowly defined “religious institutions” that serve exclusively members of their own faith are exempted from the HHS mandate. Thus all institutions run by religious believers that serve people regardless of faith—including Catholic orphanages and shelters, schools and universities, hospitals and pharmacies, soup kitchens, and even crisis pregnancy outreach centers—are now forced to provide contraceptive services or referrals for such services. This kind of government compulsion and control of religious entities and of our healthcare system is what one might expect in a Communist country, not in a free nation such as the United States is supposed to be. By attacking religion and denying our conscience rights, the Obama administration has already begun to take our nation down the dark path of totalitarianism.
As American citizens and as Catholics, we cannot afford to simply sit back and allow our most cherished God-given liberty to be swept aside by an unscrupulous and overreaching government with a radically secularist agenda. We must face the reality of what is happening and take action to defend our basic conscience rights and the freedom to publicly practice our religion without government interference—a key freedom on which our nation was founded. Our bishops have called us to prayer, fasting, and political involvement for the restoration of our religious liberty, so that “as Catholics and as Americans we do not have to choose between the two.” Let’s take up the challenge together with courage and perseverance, trusting in God’s help and in the protection of Mary Immaculate, our patroness.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
[signed] Justin Soutar
There was much more I could have said, but I wanted to try to keep this short and to the point.