Some Thoughts on Freedom

The Archdiocese of New York, headed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan; the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, headed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl; the University of Notre Dame; and 40 other Catholic dioceses and organizations around the country announced on Monday that they are suing the Obama administration for violating their freedom of religion, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.  The problem, as described on the DC Archdiocese’s new Web site, is this:

It is not about whether people have access to certain services; it is about whether the government may force religious institutions and individuals to facilitate and fund services which violate their religious beliefs.

President Obama’s Health and Human Service’s mandate, which is intended to facilitate his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and is the proximate object of the suit, forces religious organizations, against their most fundamental beliefs, to provide access to, or to make access available through their insurance programs, contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures.

These drugs and services, and many of the behaviors that “need” these drugs and services, are held by a host of religions (Catholicism and Baptist congregations are only the most well-known) to be sinful.  It is, then, not only morally wrong for a religious entity holding these beliefs to provide these things, it is impossible for that entity that is true to its beliefs to do so, or to wink at their insurance programs that do so.

Take careful note: this problem is not about whether such things are, in fact, sinful.  This problem is not about whether Catholic women, by regularly going to Mass and then to their neighborhood pharmacy for contraceptives, seemingly give the lie to Catholicism’s position.  (Indeed, the existence of sin is a raison d’être for churches of all types—to help those sinners.)  This problem is not about “free” access to these services. (In fact, they are not free: by the government’s mandate, if the recipient isn’t paying for them, you and I are—whether it violates our religious teachings or not—through higher prices to us to pay for the subsidy.)

No, this problem is about whether government can define for religious entities what is sin.  It is about whether government can dictate to a religious entity what its religious tenets are.  It is about whether government can dictate to a religious entity what its practices in furtherance of its fundamental tenets are.  It is about whether government can dictate to us individually what our beliefs, what our private decisions, must be, and whether we must sin at government’s behest.

As a practical matter, which patients are being “protected” under the Act of that name?  Plainly only those of whom Obama approves.  Certainly not those with beliefs with which he disagrees.

As a matter of freedom, what is being protected by this government diktat?  Certainly not the fundamental freedom of conscience that Christian religions teach.  Certainly not the fundamental freedom of religion—a part of our Creator’s endowment—that is codified in our Constitution.

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