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President Obama and the StopHHS Project

Kresta Commentary

February 9, 2012

By Al Kresta

On January 20, 2012, President Obama informed Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, that the Catholic Church in America has until August of 2013 to provide almost all of their employees with insurance that covers sterilization and contraception, including drugs like the ‘morning-after pill’ that may cause an early abortion. If the Church refuses to comply with this mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), various penalties will ensue. The Church will be considered an outlaw, a bad neighbor and its leaders subject to prosecution.

President Obama did this knowing full well that for 2,000 years, long before Plymouth Rock, the Catholic Church has taught that contraception, sterilization, and abortion are intrinsically evil. This is not an issue that admits of compromise. Nevertheless, to sixty million American Catholics the President has said that now to be good Americans, we must be bad Catholics. Archbishop Dolan understood immediately. His ironic response: “So you’ve given us a year to figure out how to violate our conscience.”

Many of you will remember the promise President Obama made in 2009 when speaking at the University of Notre Dame: “Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible conscience clause.” He will try to claim that there is a religious exemption. This is a mere fig leaf covering up his shame. These exemptions are so slim, they die the death of a thousand qualifications and will fail to protect most religious employers like Catholic Charities, Catholic Social Services, Catholic hospitals and universities. To claim that these are meaningful exemptions is like a fourteen year old with some feeble peach fuzz claiming to sport a beard. The kid may boast that he has a beard but every adult looking at it sees a pathetic and feeble posing to appear to be something he is not.

The conditions to receive a religious exemption are impractical, illogical, impossible. They are completely insensitive to the universal character of Christian mission. First, an apostolate must serve only its own kind. If you are a Catholic school serving the inner city of Detroit, you are not exempt since typically you will be educating a sizeable percentage of black Baptist children.

You must not only serve your own kind but you must hire only your own kind. If you are a Catholic hospital and need the best neurosurgeon you can find, you will start the interview by asking not where he went to school or how many operations has he performed or what how he regards certain research or procedures. No, the first question you must ask a prospective neurosurgeon is a parochial one: “Are you a Catholic?” In other words, in hiring one is forced to ask religious questions that normally are a violation of the EEOC practices.

As Sister Maryanne Walsh put it: “Must Catholic hospitals, to be true to their identity, now turn away people of other faiths from their emergency rooms and fire non-Catholic employees? Currently, Catholic hospitals serve one out of six people who seek hospital care in our country. Must Catholic Charities hire and serve only Catholics in its food pantries and other social service agencies? Until today, you didn’t need a baptismal certificate for soup.”

Thank you for caring enough about religious liberty to join us at*. Never before in our nation’s history has the federal government forced religious people and groups to reach into their collection plates and ante up for services that violate their conscience.

Make no mistake about it: this fight is not about contraception or abortion or a compromised Catholic Church. This is about the power of the Federal government to define what is or is not the mission of your Church, synagogue, mosque or any voluntary institution because if this government won’t respect religious liberty, our first liberty, it will not respect the subordinate rights of free speech or free association. If the Federal government is willing to set aside religious liberty in pursuit of a speculative social agenda, we are living in dangerous times. By standing together and resisting, we can make it less dangerous.

We will be following the lead of the Catholic bishops on this. They are well-situated to gauge the legal strategies and the spiritual consequences. To the question, “What solution to this dispute would be acceptable? They have written: “Ideally, HHS can leave the law the way it has always been, so those who provide, sponsor and purchase health coverage can make their own decisions about whether to include these procedures without the federal government imposing one answer on everyone. If HHS refuses, it will be especially urgent for Congress to pass the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” (HR 1179/S. 1467), to prevent the health care reform act from being used to violate insurers’ and purchasers’ moral and religious beliefs.” Visit us every day to follow this developing resistance movement and learn how to effectively communicate what the stakes are in this conflict.

*Note: The StopHHS site was discontinued in July 2013.

Al Kresta is President and CEO of Ave Maria Communications.

His afternoon radio program is heard on over 200 stations as well as Sirius satellite radio.

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