Khadine L. Ritter On the HHS Mandate

On January 20, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (a Catholic) announced her mandate that all health insurance plans must cover “preventive services for women” including contraceptives, sterilization services, and abortifacients (such as the morning-after pill).

Employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide this coverage would be given an additional year, until next August, to comply with the new law.

Sec. Sebelius stated that this decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty. “I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services,” she said.

In the words of Sebelius this legislation “stops health problems before they start.” Pregnancy is not a “health problem”. Contraception and abortifacients are not medicines.

There is an exemption for religious employers which many have touted. According to the rules,

A “religious employer” is an organization

(1) That is a church, convent or religious order;

(2) Where the inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization;

(3) That employs primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization; and

(4) That serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization.

Other than churches, let’s be clear about who will be able to take advantage of the exemption – no one. As the bishops have said, not even Jesus and his disciples would qualify.

Does St. Mary School employ teachers who are not Catholic? Does it educate non-Catholic children? How about Franciscan University in Steubenville? Do Catholic Charities distinguish between Catholic and non-Catholic poor? Do Catholic hospitals care about the religion of their patients?

The exemption is clearly designed to fail.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops responded immediately objecting to the rule forcingprivate health plans to cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs that cause abortion. The bishops stressed that all the other mandated "preventive services" prevent disease, but pregnancy is not a disease. Moreover, forcing plans to cover abortifacients violates federal conscience laws. Therefore, the bishops called for the rescission of the mandate altogether and made it clear Catholic institutions would not comply.

The bishops also explained that the mandate would impose a burden of unprecedented reach and severity on the consciences of all those who consider such "services" immoral:

· insurers forced to write policies including this coverage;

· religious and non-religious employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and

· individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage.

After a tremendous firestorm and backlash by Americans of every creed, President Obama magnanimously revised his position. Never mind that he didn’t have the authority in the first instance to infringe on our religious liberties.

Last Friday, the administration said it had come up with a “win-win” for religious employers. It plans to revise its health insurance rules over the next year to exempt religious employers from having to decide whether to pay for coverage of the services directly. Instead, the coverage will be automatically inserted into the insurance plans and provided “for free”.

Except that we all know that someone has to pay for those services. Insurance companies are not going to pay for them out of the kindness of their corporate hearts. The cost of every so-called “preventive service” will be buried in every employer’s insurance premium. In other words, what appears to be free to the user is actually being paid for by everyone.

Since the religious employer has to pay the increased premium, we’re back to square one.

If a Catholic school employee wants the morning-after pill and the insurance company is required to give it to her “for free” then everyone in the insurance pool is forced to pay for it and to violate the tenets of their faith. That is an outrageous affront to religious liberty.

According to a statement by the US Conference of Catholics Bishops after the president’s accomodation was announced:

The president’s proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions. In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters. The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.

As Bishop Slattery of Tulsa, Oklahoma has said:

This mandate is evil, because not only does it require that all Catholics cooperate in sin by providing for and paying for coverage for gravely immoral actions which have as their final end the destruction of human life, but also by requiring that Catholics who do not cooperate in this should be punished. Were we to comply with this law, we would offend God and imperil our souls. We will not comply.

Being people of faith does not mean only worshipping God on Sundays and keeping our convictions to ourselves. Being people of faith means we worship God with our whole being, in everything that we do, at every moment of our lives, in everything we say, and in the manner in which we conduct our lives.

If this mandate is not overturned in its entirety, those of us who are Catholic will be compelled by the government either to violate our conscience in a matter of grave sin, or to cancel the health insurance we offer to those who work for the Church or for the hospitals, schools, and agencies through which the Church exercises it mission.

But this issue is not limited to an attack on the Catholic Church. We are joined in this battle by people of all faiths and denominations because Americans understand that what is at stake is our fundamental right to freedom of religion. A freedom given to us not by government but by God.

The First Amendment to the Constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . .”

The Constitution doesn’t grant us any freedoms – instead it recognizes the inherent existence of natural rights and it operates under the framework of the inalienability of those rights.

The First Amendment doesn’t authorize us to worship on Sundays. It protects us from the tyranny of those who would mandate that worship must be limited to Tuesday afternoons or that our faith must not interfere with the government’s agenda or that our religious beliefs must be muffled in the public square. This is precisely the conflict the authors of the Bill of Rights foresaw and wisely addressed with the very First Amendment to the Constitution.

The reason the Bill of Rights is so important is that while the Constitution frames the limited powers of the government, the first 10 amendments are aimed specifically at protecting Americans from the totalitarian tendencies of the majority in power.

Our religious values don’t change because a majority of the people disagree with them or even because a majority violate them. Faith is constant, eternal; faith is fundamental, it is not governed by democratic ideals, public opinion polls, or scientific studies on the secular values of “preventive services”.

Pope Leo XIII wrote over a hundred years ago: “if the will of rulers is opposed to the will and the laws of God, then those rulers exceed the bounds of their own power and pervert justice. Nor can their authority be valid, since authority without justice is null.”

Freedom requires vigilance and action. Religious freedom is no different.

That is why we’re here tonight. Because we are each called to be vigilant and to take action to protect our religious liberties. We are called to defend the free exercise of our faith, all of our faiths.

We are called to be defenders of faith. We are called to be like St. Thomas More, lord chancellor of England during the reign of King Henry VIII; a man who could not separate himself from his faith even when it would cost him his life.

Thomas More knew and understood better than most men that his eternal life was at stake if he did not follow his conscience in opposing the King of England’s immoral demands. And when his longtime friend urged him to violate his conscience to appease King Henry saying, “Won't you come with us, for fellowship?"

Thomas More responded, "And when you have gone to Heaven for following your conscience and I have gone to Hell for not following mine, will you come with me — for fellowship?"

Not even the power of the king could force Thomas More to violate his conscience; not even the mandate of the crown could force him to do what his faith forbade him to do.

This is where we are today. The administration is unleashing its massive and unchecked powers against the people of God; pitting us against God; forcing us to choose between serfdom and liberty; and ordering us to abandon our conscience.

We have been allowing our government to erode our liberties for a very very long time, but if this is not enough to wake us up, we might as well admit defeat.

Because the president’s accomodation remains woefully immoral, the American Bishops have reiterated they’re call to action:

“We will therefore continue—with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency—our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government. For example, we renew our call on Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. And we renew our call to the Catholic faithful, and to all our fellow Americans, to join together in this effort to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all.”

In a moment Kevin is going to share with you a little bit about the price of our liberties. I urge you to spend time in prayer about this issue but I also ask you to please make a call, send an email, write a letter and make sure that our government knows that we will not be silenced, that we WILL defend our First Amendment rights, and that this mandate cannot stand.

At each entrance after our meeting we will be handing out contact information for our elected officials, and more information about the problems with this mandate. There is also information about efforts in Congress to pass conscience rights legislation. Let me end with a reminder that the federal government has granted waivers from the requirements of the health care law to more than 1000 companies for reasons for less serious than reasons of conscience. Is there any reason more important than this one? Thank you.