Blog Post

Bishops, Legal Scholars Denounce Obama's Phony Mandate Compromise

Even though two major Catholic groups, the Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities USA have come out in support of President Obama's HHS mandate "accommodation," the U.S. Bishops and 38 of the nation's top Catholic scholars have denounced the compromise as "morally obtuse" and completely unacceptable.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), after studying the accommodation in depth, issued a statement declaring it to be unacceptable because it still forces insurers to cover the contraception, sterilizations and abortifacient drugs, which is in violation of existing federal conscience laws.

Because the "accommodation" announced by the president on Friday does nothing to correct this flaw, the bishops say it still imposes "a burden of unprecedented reach and severity on the consciences of those who consider such 'services' immoral: insurers forced to write policies including this coverage; employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage.

"We therefore urged HHS, if it insisted on keeping the mandate, to provide a conscience exemption for all of these stakeholders—not just the extremely small subset of 'religious employers' that HHS proposed to exempt initially."

The lack of clear protection for these groups "is unacceptable and must be corrected," the bishops said.

Some of the nation's top Catholic scholars, such as the distinguished Notre Dame professor of law Robert P. George, Former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon, and papal historian George Weigel, agree with the bishops and issued a strong statement condemning the "accommodation." 

"The simple fact is that the Obama administration is compelling religious people and institutions who are employers to purchase a health insurance contract that provides abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization," the statement said. "This is a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand.  It is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept an assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick.

"Finally, it bears noting that by sustaining the original narrow exemptions for churches, auxiliaries, and religious orders, the administration has effectively admitted that the new policy (like the old one) amounts to a grave infringement on religious liberty.  The administration still fails to understand that institutions that employ and serve others of different or no faith are still engaged in a religious mission and, as such, enjoy the protections of the First Amendment."

Unfortunately, two major Catholic organizations issued statements of support immediately after the president's announcement, without giving themselves or members of their organization the benefit of the kind of careful legal analysis the changes warranted. 

Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association issued a statement saying "the framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed." Keehan is best known for flouting the U.S. bishops and coming out in support of ObamaCare in the crucial final days before passage of the unpopular reform, a move that warranted personal condemnation from then-president of the USCCB Cardinal Francis George.

Unfortunately, Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA also approved the "compromise," which many believe will hurt this year's Catholic Charities drive which is about to kick off in parishes throughout the U.S.

"This compromise enables Catholic Charities USA to not only continue to provide access to quality healthcare to its 70,000 employees and families across the country of many different faiths and backgrounds, but also guarantees the continued delivery of vital services to the more than 10 million people living in need across the country," Snyder said in a statement.

Phil Lawler of Catholic Culture bemoaned these statements, saying "their defection will make it all the more difficult for the bishops to hold the line in defense of religious freedom."

However, the bishops have no intention of backing down. They plan to continue "with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency, our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government" and are urging support of legislation such as the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act to have the mandate overturned altogether.

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