Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, recently announced that it would no longer offer a student health insurance plan because it cannot do so under Obamacare without violating its religious beliefs.
At issue is the Obamacare “preventive services” mandate promulgated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The mandate requires almost all health care plans to include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization services, and contraception.
Many individuals and institutions object on religious or moral grounds to participating in health care plans that include these products and services. Franciscan University, for example, has “specifically excluded” these products and services from its student health insurance policy.
For Franciscan, this issue is a matter of staying true to its Catholic faith, and the university does not plan to compromise. The school “will not participate in a [health care] plan that requires us to violate the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church on the sacredness of human life.”
Instead of blaming the President’s failure to protect freedom, some critics will undoubtedly attempt to blame Franciscan University for sticking to its principles. But that is a losing argument.
Students who really want abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization services, and contraception in their university-sponsored health care plans can go other places.
The question is whether, under Obamacare, students who want to attend an authentically Catholic university will be able to do so without being disadvantaged.
Recent events such as these should lead those who care about religious freedom to ponder more deeply the ways that religious freedom goes hand in hand with the condition of freedom more generally. The Obamacare health care legislation represents an enormous intrusion by government into freedom of private choice and decision-making more generally. It should be no surprise, therefore, that Obamacare has already triggered what has been called an “unprecedented” imposition on religious freedom. And the “preventive services” mandate is just one small part of a gigantic statutory and regulatory scheme that is still being implemented.
Members of various faith traditions and religious persuasions often make common cause with each other in the defense of religious freedom. However, as government continues to invade ever more deeply into realms of private choice and decision-making, those who seek to defend religious freedom should also make common cause with those who defend freedom in general. Religious freedom is rightly called our “first freedom,” but a society that abandons its moral and political commitment to freedom in general will become less willing and indeed even hostile to protecting religious freedom in particular instances.
Exemptions and carve-outs are an important part of an overall strategy for protecting religious freedom. At some point, however, the problem of overweening government regulation will become so enormous that people and institutions of faith may very well become “mincemeat” if they rely exclusively on a “Swiss cheese” approach to protecting freedom in religious and moral matters.