It is a rare moment indeed when faith denominations of all stripes unite together in common cause, and it is rarer still when that cause is a political one, with a sole piece of legislation as its principal target. But when that law eviscerates the very foundation of religious liberty in America as protected under the First Amendment, it should not be surprising that Catholics and Jews, evangelical Christians, and mainline Lutherans alike find common cause in defense of their liberties.
Such is the case with the firestorm of opposition to Obamacare and the Obama Administration’s attack on religious liberty. Under a new Obamacare mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the White House is mandating that virtually all religious employers, with the exception of churches, provide health care coverage for contraception — including abortion-inducing drugs — thereby trampling upon their constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion. And it is this mandate that has caused a vehement response in churches and synagogues across the country.
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Yesterday, the head of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, warned that the nation’s 70 million Catholics are ready to go to war with the Administration’s dictates, saying “Never before, unprecedented in American history, for the federal government to line up against the Roman Catholic Church. This is going to be fought out with lawsuits, with court decisions, and, dare I say it, maybe even in the streets.”
Donohue’s remarks follow those of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and at least 153 Catholic bishops across the country who have weighed in with opposition to the mandate. “We Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees and suffer the penalties for doing so,” wrote Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette, Michigan. Those penalties include fines imposed by the federal government that could cost larger organizations millions of dollars per year.
The Catholic Church is not alone in its opposition to Obamacare’s onslaught against religious freedom. David Addington, The Heritage Foundation’s vice president of Domestic and Economic Policy, details the growing ranks of the faithful who say the Obama Administration has crossed a very dangerous line. The National Association of Evangelicals commented that “The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent” and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America stated, “In declining to expand the religious exemption within the healthcare reform law, the Obama Administration has disappointingly failed to respect the needs of religious organizations such as hospitals, social welfare organizations and more.” The Agudath Israel of America stated its opposition, as did the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America.
The Obama Administration is beginning to feel the pressure. On Sunday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius authored an op-ed in USA Today defending the Obama Administration’s actions, claiming that a very narrow exemption to the mandate is evidence that the White House is “working to strike the right balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing women’s access to critical preventive health services.” That exemption, though, does not apply to institutions like religious schools and hospitals. Sebelius might claim the Administration is offering grace to people of faith, but in fact it is not. In an editorial that ran the same day as Sebelius,’ USA Today agreed with those standing on the side of religious liberty, writing that “in drawing up the rules that will govern health care reform” the Obama Administration “galloped over” the line and violated the “simple proposition that the government should steer away from meddling in church affairs.”
The Obama Administration’s actions, though entirely counter to the freedom of religion, should not be surprising given the nature of the President’s health care law. Obamacare has given the federal government broad power over one-sixth of the American economy and thereby purports to grant Washington the power to force religious institutions to take actions contrary to their faith. Addington writes that this kind of concentration of power “has proved to be a drastic and dangerous experiment.” America’s religious leaders and the faithful have awoken to this wolf at their door and are lashing out in defense of their freedoms. Congress, too, should act now by repealing Obamacare and restoring the religious liberty that is so central to our way of life.