January 26, 2012
The HHS mandate and religious freedom
I'm not sure I have much to add to what I wrote here about the HHS mandate and religious freedom. The mandate is bad policy, in part because it imposes a burden, without good reasons, on the religious freedom of Catholic and other religious institutions. It would not have been difficult to craft a policy that allowed an exemption to employers with religious objections to the mandate and that provided government contraceptives-purchase support to employees of such institutions.
In addition to the Washington Post editorial criticizing the mandate, there have been powerful expressions of disagreement from liberal and center-left observers, including Roger Cardinal Mahony and Michael Sean Winters . Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been particularly outspoken, and convincing, in his interventions, in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. I also recommend Archbishop Jose Gomez's piece in First Things, "A Time for Catholic Action."
The decision seems particularly cynical and insulting when one considers the support that Sec. Sebelius received from some prominent Catholics and the tone and content of the speech that Pres. Obama delivered at Notre Dame. Coupled with the bizarre and extremist brief that the Administration filed in the Hosanna-Tabor case, this decision may reasonably seen as a betrayal of those Catholics who actually believed that the President intended to lead an administration that was sensitive to religious-liberty concerns.
The decision is all the more unattractive for being so obviously political, in a low sense. 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.
Again, Archbishop Gomez:
But the issues here go far beyond contraception and far beyond the liberties of the Catholic Church. They go to the heart of our national identity and our historic understanding of our democratic form of government. In his address last Thursday, Pope Benedict gave us some prophetic advice for these troubling times:
Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level.
There will be much more to say about this in the weeks ahead. But this much is clear at the present moment: Now is a time for Catholic action and for Catholic voices. We need lay leaders to step up to their responsibilities for the Church’s mission. Not only to defend our faith and our rights as Catholics, but to be leaders for moral and civic renewal, leaders in helping to shape the values and moral foundations of America’s future.
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