By Thomas Kaluzny
“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, disciplines or exercises.” These were the words of former president Thomas Jefferson to the Rev. Samuel Miller, a Presbyterian theologian. In his own words, the late president affirms that the U.S. government is prevented by the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, from interfering with the religious practices and doctrines of any religion. Very few people would argue against this.
It should then come as a surprise that the Obama administration has done just that. On Jan. 20 of this year, the Department of Health and Human Services reaffirmed a mandate that would require all employers to include access to contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacients at no copay to the employee. That all seems well and good. However, a problem arises when you consider that many religious churches, who employ many people across the country, consider these “services” and their distribution to be morally wrong.
The biggest and most visible of these churches is the Catholic Church. Under this mandate, Catholic employers would be required to include contraceptive services in the health insurance plans they write for employees.
The Catholic Church, using natural human law, apart from any divine revelation, can reason that these services are an objective moral evil. In essence, the HHS mandate would force Catholic organizations to violate their consciences and morals when they write health insurance plans. There is a religious exemption, but it is so narrow as to be essentially meaningless. Fr. Larry Snyder, the president of Catholic Charities USA, notes that even Jesus and his disciplines would not be exempt from this mandate, since they primarily served people of other faiths. The only concession which the Department of Health and Human Services has granted is to give religious organizations a year to figure out how to incorporate this mandate.
To be clear, the issue at hand is not whether reproductive services are morally evil or not. The issue here is the federal government’s seeming disregard for the morals and consciences of Catholics. Never before in the history of the U.S. has the federal government forced people of any religion to go into the marketplace and purchase something which they see as morally evil. The decision by Kathleen Sebelius, head of the Department, is unconscionable. But this should not just be an affront only to Catholics, but to people who uphold the Constitution as the guiding principle of our basic human rights. No matter your religious or moral convictions, the trampling of religious liberty is simply not right.
Bishops all around the country have spoken out against this mandate, stating that they cannot and will not follow this mandate. In addition, various other religious groups such as Orthodox Christians, Jewish organizations and Protestant denominations have issued statements in support of the Catholic bishops. Why would they do this? Because they realize that if the government can force Catholics to violate their morals, it wouldn’t be a stretch for the government to force any other religious group to violate their morals as well.
In the end, that is the danger in this mandate: the government “intermeddling with religious institutions”. Thomas Jefferson would surely frown upon this move.