ObamaCare is Now a Religious Liberty Issue

Thu, 02/09/2012 – 10:02am | posted by Jason Pye

The latest wrinkle in ObamaCare that is turning off many people from both sides of the aisle is mandate set by the Department of Health and Human Services that would force Catholic chuches and organizations to cover birth control, despite the religion’s teachings against contraception. Republicans are urging the Obama Administration to curtail the requirement and working up legislative fixes to repeal it:

Congressional Republicans, seizing on the type of social issue that motivates and unifies their base, stepped forcefully Wednesday into the battle over an Obama administration rule requiring health insurance plans provided by Catholic universities and charities to offer free birth control to women, vowing to fight back with legislation to unravel the new policy.

“This is not a women’s rights issue,” said Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire. “This is a religious liberty issue.”

Racing to defend the administration, five Democratic senators returned from their party’s retreat south of the Capitol to hold a news conference to push back on that notion. “We stand here ready to oppose any attack that is being launched against women’s rights and women’s health,” said Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York.
[…]
On Wednesday, Representative Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska said that he would revive his Respect for Rights of Conscience bill, introduced last March. “In recent days, Americans of every faith and political persuasion have mobilized in objection to a rule put forth by the Obama administration that constitutes an unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country,” Mr. Boehner said before a group of roughly 25 members in the chamber to give their own one-minute morning speeches.

“In imposing this requirement,” he added, “the federal government is violating a First Amendment right that has stood for more than two centuries. And it is doing so in a manner that affects millions of Americans and harms some of our nation’s most vital institutions.”

A handful of Republican senators held a news conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to say that they, too, would seek legislation to push back on the rule, although it is unlikely that such a bill would have wide enough support to gain traction in that chamber.

My own personal antipathy towards Catholic teachings on contraception aside, I do have a problem with the government forcing a religious group to cover something that it doesn’t agree with. The Wall Street Journal hammered this home yesterday:

The Affordable Care Act itself is ambiguous about what counts as a religious organization that deserves conscience protection. Like so much else in the rushed bill, this was left to administrative discretion. What the law does cement is the principle that the government will decide for everyone what “health care” must mean. The entire thrust of ObamaCare is to standardize benefits and how they must be paid for and provided, regardless of individual choices or ethical convictions.

To take a small example: The HHS rule prohibits out-of-pocket costs for birth control, simply because Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s regulators believe no woman should have to pay anything for it. To take a larger example: The Obama Administration’s legal defense of the mandate to buy insurance or else pay a penalty is that the mere fact of being alive gives the government the right to regulate all Americans at every point in their lives.

Practicing this kind of compulsion is routine and noncontroversial within Ms. Sebelius’s ministry. That may explain why her staff didn’t notice that the birth-control rule abridges the First Amendment’s protections for religious freedom. Then again, maybe HHS thought the public had become inured to such edicts, which have arrived every few weeks since the Affordable Care Act passed.

Bad call. The decision has roused the Catholic bishops from their health-care naivete, but they’ve been joined by people of all faiths and even no faith, as it becomes clear that their own deepest moral beliefs may be thrown over eventually. Contraception is the single most prescribed medicine for women between 18 and 44 years old, and nine of 10 insurers and employers already cover it. Yet HHS still decided to rub it in the face of religious hospitals.

Mr. Obama’s allies among Catholic liberals are also professing shock—even the Catholic Health Association’s Sister Carol Keehan, who lobbied for ObamaCare, and Notre Dame’s Father John Jenkins, who invited Mr. Obama to speak on campus in 2009. But if they now claim they were taken for a ride by the secular left, the truth is that they wanted to be deceived in the name of their grander goal of government-enforced equity. The Catholic left was one of ObamaCare’s great enablers.

This a rare occasion where I’ll side with social conservatives. I don’t particularly care for the Rick Santorum’s of the Republican Party, whose social authoritarianism would be a loser in a general elections. With that said, religious exemptions have been common in the past when dealing with certain government requirements, but this is essentially the Obama Administration trying to force a controversial law down the throats of a Americans, as if they are trying to show how powerful they are, and how dare anyone try to stop them.

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