The Catholic Church in the U.S. is rallying in defense of religious freedom with more than 93 bishops and a new lay-run national campaign calling up on the faithful to oppose a new federal mandate that will force religious employers to violate their consciences by mandating insurance coverage for medical practices that violate the tenets of the faith.
The unpopular mandate is fast becoming a political liability for the president as Catholics across the nation unite in opposition to the law. Last weekend, in parishes across the U.S., letters were read from bishops who voiced strong reactions to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ January 22 announcement that all employers must provide health insurance that covers contraceptives, sterilizations, and drugs that can induce abortion. The letters called for prayer and civic engagement, appealing to believers’ rights against state coercion in matters of faith and conscience.
The Catholic Vote website is providing an ongoing update of statements from bishops, which includes more than 100 as of this writing. Here is a small sampling of some of the bishops’ comments:
“Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience,” says Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York. “When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.”
His sentiments were echoed by Sean Cardinal O’Malley of Boston: “It is important that Catholics not be deceived into thinking that this issue is simply another battle in the ‘culture wars.’ Rather, it is an attack on the right of all people of faith to live their faith in freedom.”
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles says ““… it is hard to escape the conclusion that the government is singling out the (Catholic) Church with this new mandate. Now is a time for Catholic action and for Catholic voices.”
“There can no longer be any doubt that religious liberty in our country is in jeopardy,” says Donald Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, D.C.
Their calls for action are being answered. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has set up a website where the faithful can learn what they can do to stand up for religious liberty in the U.S. They are asking for prayer, but also for action, particularly in contacting U.S. representatives and Senators who are up for re-election in November to ask for their position on the mandate and conscience protections.
In addition, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) is reporting that a new campaign entitled “Protect our Conscience” has also been launched by Matt Smith, president of Catholic Advocate. The campaign is aimed at helping Catholic individuals, families and parishes voice their opposition to the mandate. His goal is “to have at least 100,000 faithful Catholics participate each month until Congress acts” to protect the rights of institutions against this intrusive law.
“There are 17,782 parishes in the United States,” Smith says. “If faithful Catholics were able to average 115 letters per parish to their representative and each senator, Capitol Hill would receive over six million contacts on this issue. We would send a powerful message that cannot be ignored.”
At present, the campaign is seeking “parish leaders,” who will receive a set of tools designed to answer questions, facilitate letter-writing, and help raise awareness within their parishes.
In addition to voicing opposition to the mandate, the campaign also aims to build support for passage of the “Respect for the Rights of Conscience Act” which would amend federal health care reform by allowing employers to opt of out of covering certain services that violate their religious beliefs.
Rick Garrett of the popular Mirror of Justice blog says the president may have miscalculated the political risks of making such a move during an election year.
“It appears to me that the Administration simply decided that — perhaps because the Bishops’ stock is low in American culture at the moment, and perhaps because the polls and many advisors assure them that, because most Catholics report that they don’t accept the Church’s teachings on contraception (remember, though, this mandate covers some abortion-causing drugs, too) — it would not face any serious political cost if it imposed the mandate, but it would demoralize ‘the base’ during a re-election campaign if it did not. Catholics were quite useful during the 2008 campaign and, apparently, the Administration believes that this decision will not cause Catholics to stay home or switch sides in sufficient numbers to undermine the 2012 effort.”
However, it appears that his campaign advisers were wrong. With the opposition to the mandate becoming a brushfire among the faithful, even the most liberal pundits believe the president made a huge mistake by imposing this mandate.
“One of Barack Obama’s great attractions as a presidential candidate was his sensitivity to the feelings and intellectual concerns of religious believers,” writes E. J. Dionne, opinion writer for the liberal Washington Post.
“That is why it is so remarkable that he utterly botched the admittedly difficult question of how contraceptive services should be treated under the new health-care law. His administration mishandled this decision not once but twice. In the process, Obama threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus and strengthened the hand of those inside the church who had originally sought to derail the health care law.”
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