The assault on religious freedom in 21st century America

By Colleen Donato

There is a war being waged in the United States. It’s not a war between two prominent political parties. It’s not a war on healthcare. And as a female, I can tell you with absolute confidence that it’s definitely not a war on women. It is a war on religion, and people of conscience, and it is shockingly unfolding before my eyes. It’s so shocking, in fact, that many of my fellow citizens who hear about this war think it’s just not happening. “Not to us! No way could something like that take place in America,” some tell me. As if the United States is immune to tyranny.

So much trust has been placed in the hands of our constitutional lawyers, our politicians and our Supreme Court Justices. Perhaps, too much trust? I recently attended an enlightening lecture by constitutional lawyer KrisAnne Hall on the genealogy of our US Constitution. She told the audience that most constitutional lawyers NEVER study the US Constitution—for the past 100 years or so, it has not been a requirement at most universities and colleges. At Harvard, only international law is studied. The audience gasped at this absurd notion. Why are we disregarding the very document our Founding Fathers (and Mothers as KrisAnne Hall argues) painstakingly put into place for us after sacrificing everything they had? The very document that proudly proclaims people, of every race, creed, and denomination, have the unalienable right to liberty? Why?

So what is the HHS Mandate?
On August 1st of this year, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) put into law a federal mandate ordering all employers nationwide to provide their female employees health insurance plans covering contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization—free-of-charge, regardless of the employer’s moral or religious beliefs. This law is unprecedented in American history as it directly violates our Constitutional protected God-given rights to practice religion according to our conscience and more importantly, God’s Will. The HHS mandate (as it is commonly known) is a direct result of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which Congress passed in 2010 and the Supreme Court upheld in July 2012. When the Affordable Care Act passed, the “preventive services” in the plan were not yet defined by the administration. You might recall how Democratic Leader of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi jokingly confessed, “We have to pass it to find out what’s in it.”

From the beginning, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), led by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, strongly advised the Obama administration against the inclusion of abortifacients as part of those undefined services, while remaining a strong supporter of comprehensive healthcare reform for all. A narrow accommodation (discussed but not written into the law by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius) was offered. That limited exemption states that only religious institutions serving and employing those of their own faith can be excused from the mandate. Since the Catholic Church serves and employs people of other faiths, and also people of no faith at all, the Church is not exempt from the mandate and will be heavily fined for not abiding by this law. Fines for not complying are set at a maximum penalty of $100 per day per employee. Translation: a Catholic hospital system employing 10,000 people could face multi-million dollar penalties that would lead to bankruptcy. To date, the Amish and Christian Care Ministry are the only two groups who are fully exempt from the healthcare law as both do not utilize insurance policies. As stated, there is no exemption for the Catholic Church nor any other religious organization, institution or private business owner. Religious institutions have one year to comply (until August 1, 2013) with the mandate. Private businesses must comply immediately.

This regulation is an egregious affront to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and to the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which declares: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ The mandate is an audacious attack on religious freedom for all Americans, regardless of their faith, because it allows the government to dictate what is religious dogma, to determine which religions are “more religious” than others, and to redefine religion’s role in society. It forces people opposed to artificial birth control, abortion and sterilization to violate their conscience by “aiding and abetting” in the funding, distribution and practice of these medications and procedures.

To be clear, opposition to the HHS mandate is NOT a war on pharmaceutical birth control or women’s healthcare as the Obama administration repeatedly declares. The Catholic Church is not demanding that all Americans follow our principles in regard to contraception. In fact, the federal government already provides free birth control (with our tax dollars) through Title X Family Planning for low-income individuals, Medicare and Planned Parenthood. For decades now, billions of federal tax dollars have funded free contraception. The truth is President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius have invited all of us into the bedrooms of others! No thank you, Mr. President. No thank you, Madame Secretary. You don’t have to be religious to be offended by this ridiculous invitation.

In all seriousness, the consequences of this unjust law will be felt by the entire nation as Catholic hospitals, schools, nursing homes, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other charities close because of hefty government fines—increasing homelessness and poverty in the US, while obstructing the public works of Our Lord. Moreover, “freedom of religion” is being replaced with “freedom of worship”. Do you know the difference? You should because President Obama likes to say we have “freedom of worship” in the USA. “Freedom of worship” only allows one to practice his/her faith inside the Church walls as is done in Communist countries; religion in the public square is not tolerated. “Freedom of religion” is what the US Constitution protects—where the government does not favor one religion over another, but religion has its place in the public square. Indeed, there should be a separation of church and state where government does not interfere with the internal affairs of the church, and the church does not dictate how the government should govern. Right now, with the HHS mandate, President Obama is dictating how the Church should govern its internal affairs. Unprecedented. Scary. Outrageous.

As a Catholic and an American, I now approach the “Year of Faith” with the awful realization that by this time next year, this blog could be deemed unlawful by my government. We are on the edge of a precipice in this country. The good news: it’s an election year. Stand up for religious freedom! If that most sacred right is taken away from us, all of the other cherished freedoms we enjoy in this nation (freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc.) will soon follow.

  1. I’m sorry, but I don’t need a papal edict and tons of materials generated by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to inaugurate a “Year of Faith”. It’s just another attempt to put a slogan on another year of grace given us by God. Every day is a day of faith…hope…and love. No one knows even how to define it, but “the New Evangelization” was first trotted out by Blessed John Paul II. This is another packaging of preaching the gospel which is our joyful task year in and year out.

    • That’s fine if you feel that you don’t need any encouragement in deepening your faith! Some of us need a refresh, and some, like myself, want to share our faith with others in new ways — hence the blog. But the sharing should not stop there. Everyday is a grace, as you say. And hopefully, we are using that grace to bring the joy of Easter to all people, including the many who have not heard the Gospel. That’s why freedom of religion, the freedom to speak and do the work of Christ in the public square, is so fundamentally important.

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