(Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final installment in a series of articles on President Barack Obama’s war on religion.)
Bill Donohue’s Perspective:
Americans who oppose abortion have learned to live with Roe v. Wade, but they (as well as some abortion-rights advocates) have never come to terms with proposals forcing them to fund abortion.
This was on President Obama’s mind when he addressed the graduation class of 2009 at the University of Notre Dame. “Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible conscience clause,” he said.
For this he was hailed by the president of Notre Dame, Father John Jenkins. Three years later the priest sued Obama for breaking his vow.
The Notre Dame speech notwithstanding, the Obama administration’s willingness to violate conscience rights in pursuit of Obamacare was evident from the beginning.
In 2009, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Enzi sought to include language in the healthcare bill that would prohibit public funding of abortion. It was voted down, much to the applause of the Obama administration.
A similar bill by Rep. Eric Cantor went down to defeat. Sen. Tom Coburn sponsored an amendment that would provide conscience-rights protections for healthcare workers, and it too was defeated. Rep. Bart Stupak, Rep. Joe Pitts, and Rep. Sam Johnson also tried to bar federal funds for abortion; their efforts met the same fate.
What was most exasperating about this entire matter was the insistence on the part of Obama officials that nothing in the healthcare bill would allow for the public funding of abortion. Then why fight with such ferocity bills designed to make sure this never happens?
By the end of 2009, the real agenda of the Obama administration had become so transparent that even its friends at The New York Times felt obliged to come clean. That November the Times ran a news story showing how Obama had betrayed his promise. Reporter Robert Pear wrote that the president “was not comfortable with abortion restrictions inserted into the House version of major healthcare legislation, and he prodded Congress to revise them.” The pro-life community, largely faith-based, felt disabused by these shenanigans. But they had no idea how bad matters would soon become.
On Jan. 20, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius rolled out what would come to be known as the HHS mandate: Catholic institutions would be required to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in their healthcare plans for employees.
The inclusion of abortion-inducing drugs was striking. The administration could have settled for contraception, but instead it sought to stick the camel’s nose in the tent. Its real long-term interest was plain: eventually, as broached by FOCA, Catholic hospitals would be required to perform abortions.
On Jan. 31, Press Secretary Jay Carney stunned even Obama supporters when he said, “I don’t believe there are any constitutional rights issues here.” No one was buying it, especially not the bishops.
After Catholics pushed back, a new version was introduced three weeks later. But it was a distinction without a difference: It mandated that the insurance carrier of Catholic non-profits must pay for these services.
This was just a shell game. In reality, many Catholic non-profits are self-insured (for example, the Archdiocese of Washington is self-insured). Then there is the issue of Catholic entities that are not self-insured: Why should they have to pay their insurance company for services they deem immoral? Another issue that won’t go away is the right of Catholic business owners not to pay for services that violate their conscience.
It is important to acknowledge that Catholics are not asking for special rights — they are simply asking the Obama administration to respect the status quo. The administration won’t budge, saying the best it will do is exempt Catholic churches.
So what about Catholic non-profits?
Without doubt, the most contentious, and frankly diabolical, demand of the Obama administration is the proviso that only Catholic institutions that hire and serve mostly people of their own religion are entitled to an exemption. In practice, this means that Mother Teresa’s worldwide health and social service programs that serve people of all religions, as well as non-believers, would not qualify for a religious exemption.
Obama officials arrived at this conclusion by following the thinking of the ACLU (as I have recounted in two books on the organization, the ACLU has never been a religion-friendly institution).
In 2000, ACLU lawyers helped devise legislation in California that took a novel view of what constitutes a religious institution. It argued that a truly religious entity had to employ and serve mostly people of its own faith.
By adopting the ACLU rule, the Obama administration essentially sought to punish Catholic universities, hospitals, and social service agencies because they do not discriminate against non-Catholics. In other words, if these institutions were to display signs saying, “No Jews Allowed,” they would be just fine.
Catholic bishops, led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), have made their objections known loud and clear. So have non-Catholics.
Evangelical Protestants, in particular, have joined with their Catholic brothers in registering their outrage. It is apparent to everyone that Obama’s war on religion has reached a new level of opposition.
The determination of Obama officials to push forward led them to attack another First Amendment right: the right to free speech. The archbishop of the military services, Thomas Broglio, joined with his fellow bishops in issuing a pastoral letter criticizing the Obama administration for violating the conscience rights of Catholics. He got into trouble with the Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains when he asked military chaplains to read the letter from the pulpit. The Obama team initially ordered the letter censored, but eventually modified its position after a compromise was met.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Obamacare constitutional in June, although it did not rule on the constitutionality of the HHS mandate (it was not promulgated until after the high court agreed to decide the fate of Obamacare).
The November election may make all of this moot if Obama loses, but if he wins, Catholic rights will be tested in the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, new legislative efforts are being made to secure conscience rights.
It is still hard to get the president and his administration to speak truthfully about this issue. In August, President Obama told a crowd at the University of Denver that “We worked with the Catholic hospitals and universities to find a solution that protects both religious liberty and a woman’s health.”
Yet as recently as February, Bishop William Lori, who chairs the bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, said point blank that “no one from this administration has approached the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for discussions on this matter of a possible ‘compromise.’” He also made it clear that only after the original HHS mandate was revised did the White House contact Archbishop Dolan.
When pieced together, all of these issues — Obama’s secular mindset, his secular allies, his secular policies, and his assault on Catholicism — show an animus to religious liberty.
It is no exaggeration to say that this nation has never witnessed anything like it. The frontal assault on religion, especially on its public role, is unprecedented. Explicit references to our religious heritage have been scrubbed clean from speeches and official pronouncements; the professed enemies of Christianity have been given a free hand shaping public policy; faith-based programs have been allowed to wither; the radical pro-abortion and pro-gay agendas have been set loose to undermine our First Amendment freedoms; and attempts to force people of faith to violate their conscience have reached a dangerous level.
The war on religion carried out by the Obama administration is not the product of someone’s imagination — it is real. Whether it succeeds depends less on them than on us.
Dr. William Donohue is the president of and CEO of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization. The publisher of the Catholic League journal, Catalyst, Bill is a former Bradley Resident Scholar at the Heritage Foundation and served for two decades on the board of directors of the National Association of Scholars. The author of five books, two on the ACLU, and the winner of several teaching awards and many awards from the Catholic community, Donohue has appeared on thousands of television and radio shows speaking on civil liberties and social issues.
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