The lawsuit brought by more than a dozen Catholic bishops against the Obama administration is about religious freedom, not birth control, Cardinal Donald Wuerl writes in an Op-Ed published in The Washington Post
The archbishop of Washington said that Department of Health and Human Services rules that require religious organizations to provide health-care coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization procedures are an infringement on the church’s “First Amendment right to practice our religion without government interference.”
“This lawsuit, filed Monday by the archdiocese and other Catholic organizations in our city, is not about contraception. Women are free to obtain and use contraception. The assertion that these products are hard to obtain or expensive is not true. Nothing in this lawsuit challenges women’s right to obtain these drugs and procedures.
“The lawsuit is about religious freedom. As is the norm with such laws, the HHS mandate includes an exemption for religious organizations,” the cardinal said. “If the religious exemption in this case were reasonable, there would have been no need for this lawsuit — after all, we are indeed ‘religious’ under any sensible definition. But this mandate’s religious exemption is the narrowest ever adopted in federal law.”
Wuerl notes that the exemption does not include any organization that serves the general public, thereby excluding Catholic hospitals, schools, and social service programs. Such a definition “contradicts decades of precedent and practice.”
“Republicans and Democrats alike have long agreed that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty includes not only what goes on within the four walls of a church but also the religiously motivated acts of service that fulfill the mission of that church’s faith,” Wuerl wrote. “Only now, with this mandate’s demands, has the federal government said that we must leave our conscience behind when we step into the public square.”
The Obama administration has since backed away from the original rule and offered a plan where insurance providers would bear the burden for contraceptive coverage instead of the institution. Wuerl said this “so-called accommodation” does not take into account those that are self-insured, like the Archdiocese of Washington. It also doesn’t address the fact that religious institutions would “inevitably be forced to subsidize all of this through increased premiums or fees.”
“The Catholic Church has not picked this fight,” he said in conclusion. “We are simply trying to defend our — and other faith groups’ — long-standing rights. While the administration wants to regulate religion, we are not trying to force anything on anyone. Allowing religious organizations to serve the public does not violate the separation of church and state. Conscripting us into advancing government objectives against our conscience does.
“This struggle is all about the Bill of Rights. You don’t have to agree with the Catholic Church and its teachings to agree that the government shouldn’t force us to violate our beliefs. People of all faiths or no faith should cherish the right to follow one’s conscience. We do not want to tell the government what it must do. We simply ask the same of them.”
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