Author Eric Metaxas had the unenviable job of speaking just before the very popular Dr. Ben Carson at CPAC. I’m glad he got the time, though, because he gave the sharpest outline of the HHS mandate and the clearest defense of religious liberty of any headlined speaker I heard at the conference. C-SPAN has just posted the video of Metaxas’s 14-minute speech. Check it out here.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.)