“Fortnight for Freedom” Begins Today

“We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”

This conclusion to the 2009 Manhattan Declaration is a particularly apt call today, which begins a two-week countdown to Independence Day called “Fortnight for Freedom.” The president and HHS Secretary Sebelius are not backing down from the odious HHS mandate, about which I’ve written many times before. In the best tradition of peaceful protest, the Catholic bishops of the United States have invited not only Catholics but all Americans of good will to join in two weeks of prayer, study, and public action calling for repeal of the mandate. Join as best you can, from wherever you are.

By now, everyone should understand that the mandate threatens ALL churches by allowing the federal government to determine which religious organizations are religious enough to meet exemption requirements. If the Catholic church is in administrative crosshairs today, other churches will be there later. Catholics simply don’t want to be penalized for rejecting the “Affordable” Care Act’s premise that pregnancy is a preventable disease.

Conscience and religious freedom rights are being knocked around locally, not just in Washington. The failure of a conscience clause bill in the most recent New Hampshire legislative session is a startling reminder that acting in defense of human life, even by refusing to participate in the provision of abortion or abortive drugs, can cost you your job. I heard legislators, Democrat and Republican, remark in public sessions that those who have moral objections to certain procedures should just choose other jobs. That means you, Mr. Pharmacist and Ms. Medical Assistant.

And so: the Fortnight. Text “Freedom” to 377377 for information on the event from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Our Lady of the Holy Rosary parish in Rochester will have a program this evening from 6:30-8 p.m. You can participate online in a national “virtual vigil”; see fortnight.catholicadvocate.com. Over the next couple of weeks, re-read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution’s preamble and Bill of Rights, the Manhattan Declaration, King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Anything going on in your area during the Fortnight? Post a comment about it & I’ll spread the news.

“Go Back To The Drawing Board” on HHS Mandate

I was privileged to be invited to speak on behalf of Cornerstone Policy Research at today’s Standing Up for Religious Freedom rally in Concord. I hope the other speakers will post their remarks as well, and if they do, I’ll link to them. We saw a lot of thumbs-up from  drivers going past. Apparently, the message is getting out there, even in Concord. Here are the remarks I delivered.

June 2012: religious freedom rally in Concord (with Catherine Adair)
June 2012: religious freedom rally in Concord (with Catherine Adair)

We’re gathering on the anniversary of a special day in our nation’s history. Two Hundred Twenty-Three years ago today, James Madison gave Congress his proposal for the Bill of Rights. We’re here today in defense of the very first clause in the First Amendment: protection of the free exercise of religion.

In March, Americans in 140 cities including Concord stood up for religious freedom, moved by the Health and Human Services Mandate. Today, people are standing up in 160 cities. More and more Americans recognize that the mandate is not about women and not about a particular church. It’s about the federal government effectively rewriting the First Amendment.

Start with health care plans in which we all must participate under penalty of law. Make “preventive care” free to a patient, with no co-pay. Further, include contraception, abortive drugs, and female sterilization in the list of what is “preventive”. The result of such a plan: we all subsidize these procedures for the women who choose to use them.

What if I embrace a religious belief that says these things are immoral? What if I run a business and want to provide health insurance to my employees without subsidizing these procedures? What if I’m a woman who rejects the bad science & bad medicine behind the belief that a healthy woman’s body needs chronic chemical alteration?

Our president and our secretary of health and human services say “too bad,” and Congress is so far nodding meekly. Agree that women’s fertility is a disease, or else pay a penalty, they say.

We say “Go back to the drawing board.”

Our current President and his HHS Secretary tried unsuccessfully to buy off the Catholic church in America with an “exemption” for religious employers. They even tried to tell that church what a religious employer looks like: a business operated by a certain religion that serves only those of the same religion.

Stop right there. You have no right to tell me what my faith means, and you may not penalize me or my employer or my church for acting on our beliefs.

This is critical. Voters are watching. Any policy that pushes any religion to the margins and seeks to extract a penalty from its adherents is unconstitutional. If one religion is threatened, we are all threatened.

The Administration is welcoming comments from the public on the mandate, until June 19.  Here’s my comment – the same one I made in March: my faith is not a crime, a woman’s fertility is not a disease, and this mandate has got to go.  

I don’t like using the term “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” The fact is that this health care law is neither protective nor affordable. It claims to protect my family’s health, but does so at the price of our First Amendment protections. It claims to be affordable, but in fact by threatening the operation of the most extensive health care network in the country – the network of religiously-affiliated health care facilities – it will restrict access to health care and thus drive up costs. Poor women, single mothers, and children with chronic illnesses will be hit first and hardest. “Affordable” would be a sick joke.

What do I want to see? An end to the mandate. You think pregnancy is a disease and women’s fertility should be suppressed? Go ahead and act on those beliefs for yourself, and make a co-pay. If you think a co-pay is a war on women, wait until you hear from the women who know the mandate is a war on religion. Do not expect me to call contraception & sterilization & abortive drugs “preventive.” Do not threaten to penalize people of faith because of their faith. You exercise your beliefs and let me exercise mine. That’s right – turn the clock all the way back to January 2012.

I am grateful that New Hampshire’s people of faith are getting support from some elected officials. I am grateful to religious leaders who have spoken peacefully and relentlessly against the mandate   But you and I would be wrong to depend on anyone else to carry the banner for us. We will be wrong to depend on a political party to fix everything. We will be wrong to expect a pastor to do our work for us. We each need to claim the protection of the Bill of Rights, without apology. We each need make our case to our neighbors who don’t yet understand what the fuss is about. It’s up to you and me as Americans to let our leaders know that we will not trade away the First Amendment for our family’s medical security, and we take a very dim view any politician who thinks we should.

Don’t wait for media coverage of this event and this debate. BE the coverage. Keep spreading the news.

I make a special appeal to people of faith who oppose this mandate and are in one of two specific callings: professional health care, and caring at home for a loved one with medical challenges. People who are pushing for this mandate are counting on you to back them up, or at least to stay silent. This is not the time for silence. You have experience and credibility. Tell the world what you know about health care, and what you know about your faith, and why this mandate interferes with both.

We are not alone in speaking out. On May 21, 43 plaintiffs filed a total of twelve lawsuits in various U.S. District Courts. Yesterday, when the White House had an online town hall meeting on women’s health and invited people to submit questions via Facebook, women opposing the mandate took to the Internet in Droves. It was ironic that the video feed showed a room full of women all on board with the “Affordable” Care Act – while the women speaking out on the Facebook feed were nearly all opposed to it, with the mandate being the #1 concern.

Take the encouragement you find here today and bring it to your town, your neighbors, your pastors, and especially your elected representatives. Thank you.

Friday Rally In Concord – Pass It On!

Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally, Concord NH, Federal Courthouse at the corner of Pleasant & South Streets, Friday 6/8 at noon. Go tweet that to your friends & neighbors and – this is important – your pastors & your elected representatives. Facebook it. Get on the phone about it. The event will last one hour. Signs will be available there. Bring your kids, & dress for the weather. Logistical details are at the end of this post.

I’ll ask nicely by adding PLEASE. But let’s not be so nice that we stay home. The HHS mandate is still coming as part of Obamacare, regardless of what you’ve heard about “accommodation” for religious institutions.  As with a similar rally day on March 23, people in over 130 U.S. cities will stand up on Friday and say no to the mandate.

Brief summary of life under the yet-to-be-fully-implemented mandate: Health insurance will be mandatory for all. Pregnancy will apparently be classified as a disease, since contraceptives and abortifacient drugs will be counted as “preventive care.” Preventive care will be free to the consumer, meaning all participants in the system will subsidize it via premiums. Institutions seeking exemptions on religious grounds can go whistle Dixie, since the federal government will be the sole arbiter of what is and is not a sufficiently “religious” organization.

The recent lawsuits filed in twelve federal courts by over 40 Catholic institutions against implementation of the mandate probably surprised a few D.C. bureaucrats. I hope they get surprised again when more lawsuits are filed, as other religious entities and people of faith realize that this mandate attacks all religions. Even our neighbors who profess no religious faith whatsoever have reason to be concerned when the First Amendment is threatened.

Litigation should never be a first response, of course, and these lawsuits were certainly not filed in haste. Catholic leaders sought a dialogue with the president and Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius to resolve their concerns. No dice.  The federal government and its workers, once mobilized, are loath to change course.

And so we take to the streets and the courts, peaceful and resolute. Please join me.

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Concord details: parking is not allowed in the courthouse lot or at Sacred Heart Church across the street, but on-street parking is available nearby. Bring a few quarters. The rally will be held on a sidewalk, without shelter or restrooms, so plan accordingly. If it’s a warm day, you’ll want to bring a bottle of water. And if you’re ready for lunch afterward, Concord’s Main Street has a number of options; if fast food is more your thing, head south on Main Street towards exit 13 for I-93.

 

Mandate Rationale? Try Checking Under the Penumbra

Back in 1965, Justice Douglas of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote for the majority in the Griswold case that the right to privacy, while not explicit in the U.S. Constitution, could be derived as an “emanation” within the “penumbra” of enumerated rights. (That’s his language, not mine.) Emanations and penumbras can of course be toxic, as we learned in ’73 when Roe was handed down, buttressed by Griswold’s reasoning.

Forty-seven years later, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is apparently all on board with penumbras. She was on Capitol Hill yesterday to face Congressional questioning. One bold soul asked her how she decided the HHS contraceptive-coverage mandate could square with religious liberty. Madam Secretary’s reply:

“Congressman, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t pretend to understand the nuances of the constitutional balancing tests […] I am not going to wade into constitutional law, I’m talking about the fact that we are implementing a law that was passed by the Congress, signed by the President, which directed our department to develop a package of preventive health services for women. We have done just that with the advice of the Institute of Medicine, and promulgated that rule.”

I am indebted to Calvin Freiburger (here) and his unbeatable commentary on that answer, published in Live Action News today:
“Note well that the combination of congressional votes, presidential signatures, and the opinion of the Institute of Medicine amount to somewhere between nada and zilch when it comes to constitutional law.”

It Takes a Village to Kill a Mandate

The Nashua Telegraph is reporting this afternoon that a NH Senate committee has recommended “polite death” for HB 1546, a bill to repeal the state’s mandate that health insurers cover contraception. It was tough enough getting that one through the House. The full Senate has yet to vote, so the outcome is still open. The committee’s recommendation will be overturned if and only if enough senators recognize that this mandate and its federal counterpart are attacks on religious liberty.

When NH’s mandate passed a dozen or so years ago, I didn’t recognize its significance.  I opposed the bill, but I settled for quietly shaking my head instead of taking up the argument. After all, in accordance with my religious faith, I wasn’t using contraceptives, and I wasn’t working for a religious institution with moral objections to contraception. It did not occur to me or to anyone else in the room that NH’s mandate, and similar measures in other states, would help pave the way for the federal government’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to require that all Americans purchase health care, define contraception and abortifacient drugs as “preventive care”, and refuse to recognize conscientious objections to this arrangement.

(I’ll save for another day a fuller treatment of just what kind of health problem contraception “prevents”.)

Back in 1999, that would have seemed a huge leap. Now, looking back, I wonder how I could have failed to see what was coming. It is to the great credit of American Catholic bishops that they have been so outspoken in defending religious liberty against this encroachment (see their statement here). That’s a start. The bishops have done their job. It’s now for the rest of us to bring the no-mandate message to Concord and Washington.

The HHS mandate plays strange games with health care, and thus with people’s lives. It says certain procedures are “preventive” and thus must be free to women. No co-pay. Except that’s not really free: everyone, including women with religious objections to the procedures, must pay, since everyone will be required to carry insurance. Religious institutions providing insurance to employees will have to pay to include that coverage even if the procedures violate the tenets of the religion in question. There is no opting-out. In response to protests, the President has delayed implementation of the mandate to August 2013, as though the outrage will cool by then.

What will happen at that time to religious institutions, such as hospitals and adoption agencies, that will not pay into such a health care system? They can knuckle under, which is undoubtedly what HHS expects, or they can close down, or they can continue to operate but pay heavy fines to the government.

But what about the First Amendment? The HHS mandate attempts to get around that by exempting certain religious employers – but not the ones that serve people of other religions. As others have pointed out, Jesus and the apostles would flunk that test. Employers refusing to submit to the mandate will be fined.

A government that attacks my religion today can attack yours tomorrow. Today, I am being told that I can hold whatever beliefs I want, as long as I’m prepared in August 2013 to pay a fine for taking those beliefs seriously. Tomorrow, or next week, or next year, you could be getting that message.

It does not matter if those of us who reject the mandate are in a minority. The Bill of Rights was not put into the Constitution to protect majorities.

When the American bishops spoke up earlier this year, they were greeted with a well-orchestrated & well-funded campaign promoting a lie: that anyone opposing the mandate is waging war on women.

I don’t have an advertising budget. I don’t have Nancy Pelosi’s phone number to ask her to set up a mock hearing for me. I am not a photogenic 30-year-old Georgetown law student with a publicist. I’m simply a New Hampshire neighbor, here to get my message across as best I can.

A co-pay is not a war.  Respecting Catholic beliefs is not an act of war. When you keep your hands out of my pocket when you pay for your preventive care, that’s not an act of war.

On the other hand, a federal mandate that threatens the Catholic Church’s ability to operate thousands of schools and hospitals and adoption agencies DOES amount to a war on women. When this mandate imposes a fine a on a church that is one of the foremost health care providers in the nation, that’s not only a First Amendment violation. It’s stupid, shortsighted policy that will have a devastating effect on American women.

Today’s hearing in Concord featured women complaining that repealing the state mandate would inhibit access to contraception. Note to senators: access doesn’t mean free. Ask any store owner. At least eleven agencies in our state offer family planning services on a sliding fee scale, so financial need is not barrier to access.

The HHS mandate, and the state-level mandates as well, are not really about preventive health care except to those who consider women’s fertility to be a disease. A mandate that threatens Catholic health care providers undermines the very meaning of health care. In fact, if you’re concerned about women’s health, you’ll defend the church’s freedom to do its work.

Up to now, people of faith have “rendered unto Caesar”, as the saying goes, on things like this. Just as I behaved when NH’s mandate was enacted, we’ve gone along to get along. The HHS mandate is a line in the sand, drawn by Caesar, and it’s time to say “we’ve rendered enough.”

I’m not asking for any favors here. I am a citizen, and I claim the protections of the First Amendment against those who would force individuals and institutions of any religion to participate in providing procedures they recognize as immoral. That’s solid ground on which to stand.

A co-pay is not a war, fertility is not a disease, and religious faith is not a crime. Senators in Concord and HHS bureaucrats in Washington evidently need to be reminded of this.

(This post is based in part on remarks I delivered to the Standing Up for Religious Freedom rally in Concord last month.)