It was just over seven weeks ago that the Obama Administration began its frontal assault on the religious liberty of the Catholic Church. Yet even before Secretary Kathleen Sebelius unveiled that provocative HHS abortifacient/contraception/sterilization mandate on January 20, an astonishingly broad spectrum of faith communities had filed briefs in the United States Supreme Court to oppose a different threat that Administration policies presented to First Amendment religious liberty.
The issue in that case was whether a Lutheran congregation’s right to decide who is fit to serve in its ministry must yield to the Administration’s EEOC policies. And it was not just Protestants but also Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and even spiritists, Santeristas, animists, Mandaeans and Vaisnavas (“Hare Krishnas”) who rallied to the congregation’s support in those amicus briefs opposing the Administration’s intrusion. And the Court’s answer was no less decisive. All nine Justices, acting with rare unanimity, rebuked the Administration’s assault on that congregation’s First Amendment rights. Read the Court’s opinions in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-553.pdf
The amicus briefs appear in their entirety at http://www.americanbar.org/publications/preview_home/10-553.html.
The Administration’s opponents in Hosanna-Tabor seem to have learned a vital lesson from history: despite the enormous differences that separate them, they had learned that when government attacks anybody’s fundamental rights, it attacks everyone’s.
The poignant words of Martin Niemoller, the heroic anti-Nazi theologian and German patriot, may have been in the minds of some of those who stood up in defense of the Lutheran congregation:
“In Germany they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up.”
Of course, the ink on this Court opinion rebuking the Administration’s violation of the congregation’s religious liberty was hardly dry when, little more than a week later, the Catholic Church and Catholic employers were told when they will be required to change their employee health insurance coverage in violation of their religious principles and personal consciences. Yet the Administration almost certainly did not expect the Church’s response nor the many voices outside the Church who understand that the Administration’s mandate poses a threat to them, too.
First of all, the Catholic bishops have been united, clear, bold, and powerful in their response. Meanwhile, other Catholic groups have been filing lawsuits against the mandate and the Administration, sometimes working together with groups like the Becket Fund and the Alliance Defense Fund. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/10/becket-fund-lawsuit-obama-birth-control-mandate_n_1335467.html . Among the first Catholic plaintiffs to sue the Administration are Ave Maria University of Florida, Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, EWTN Global TV Network and the Priests for Life.
Seven states also have filed lawsuits against the mandate: Nebraska, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Catholic organizations like Catholic Social Services and some Catholic employers and other individuals have joined in the litigation.
Equally encouraging are the strong protests against the mandate coming from other faiths. Lawsuits have been filed by such groups as Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College and non-denominational Christian colleges including Geneva College in Pennsylvania and Colorado Christian University. Read more: http://www.lifenews.com/2012/02/20/obama-faces-more-lawsuits-over-pro-abortion-hhs-mandate/
Other prominent Protestant and Jewish voices are confronting the mandate in the arena of public opinion rather than the courts. Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren, President Obama’s choice to deliver the invocation at the 2009 Presidential Inauguration is speaking out with power:
“I’d go to jail rather than cave in to a government mandate that violates what God commands.”
Warren also makes clear that the government’s threat targets religious liberty itself: “I’m not a Catholic but I stand in 100% solidarity with my brothers and sisters to practice their belief against government pressure.”
Prominent talk show host Glenn Beck, a Mormon, is spreading a similar message:
“I am a proud member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but … the state is telling the Catholic Church to violate its principles and teachings…. [W]hen the state comes
against the Catholics, or the Jews, or the Muslims, or the Pentecostals, or the Mormons or those of any other faith – exotic or familiar – we must all stand up as one….”
The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North America also issued a stinging rebuke against the Administration’s mandate, calling it an “infringement of religious liberty” that “poses a grave threat to the sanctity of the Church’s conscience.”
While some Jewish leaders support the Administration, just as some did in Hosanna-Tabor, those who oppose the mandate are pointing to the grave constitutional threat that the mandate poses to all believers. Nathan Diament, Executive Director of Judaism’s Orthodox Union, has voiced such concerns while pointing out that his concern is confounding ”political commentators [who] expected to see Jewish leaders and their respective constituents on the sidelines….” Rabbi Abba Cohen of Agudath Israel, another leading voice of the Orthodox Jewish community, took specific aim at the Administration’s purported “compromise” revision of its mandate in February that did not rectify the problem in any way. He provides a convincing explanation of why it offers no real solution at all:
“Whether or not the White House’s new ‘compromise’ proposal adequately addresses the religious freedom concerns raised by the Catholic Church is for the Catholic Church to say… not the White House…. [N]o religiously sponsored entity and no religiously motivated individual should be forced by government to violate its or his sincerely held religious principles…. [T]he determination of religious propriety must be left to the religious entity or individual, not to the government.” For more discussion of Jewish concerns about the mandate, see http://jewishvoiceny.com/index.php?view=article&catid=110%3Anational&id=554%3Abroader-implications-draw-jewish-involvement-in-the-contraception-debate&tmpl=component&print=1&page=&option=com_content&Itemid=293
These strong condemnations of the mandate from religious leaders and other prominent people seem to voice the concerns of the general public as well. A Gallup poll released two weeks ago shows that 72 percent of Americans now think the individual mandate is unconstitutional. In fact, only 37 percent of Democrats think it is constitutional, along with 6 percent of Republicans and 21 percent of Independents.
There is also data to suggest that Democrats seeking elective office may be hurt by the Administration’s threats to religious liberty. The strongest proof of this, surprisingly, comes from liberal Massachusetts. When Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown co-sponsored a conscience exemption two weeks ago in the Senate
to exempt employers who would otherwise be forced to violate their principles and their personal consciences, Democrats gleefully predicted that he had committed political suicide. They expected women voters to punish Brown severely for exempting any employer from providing them contraceptives. But the very opposite has happened: while some polls had reported that Brown was losing to Democrat Elizabeth Warren before he spoke out for religious liberty and freedom of conscience, he now is suddenly commanding a respectable lead and even running well among women as well as men. See http://deusetpatria.com/2012/03/05/the-lefts-war-on-religious-liberty-is-backfiring/?preview=true&preview_id=971&preview_nonce=f6651b5d45
In short, the constitutional threats posed by the Administration’s assaults on First Amendment religious liberty guaranties seem to be uniting many of America’s diverse faith communities, prompting them to speak out in opposition. And voters seem to be demanding that their elected representatives speak out in favor of religious liberty and conscience protection.
A POSTSCRIPT: A SUMMARY OF DEUS ET PATRIA’S COVERAGE OF THE
MANDATE AND ITS THREAT TO RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
This website was one of the first to recognize the magnitude of the mandate-induced religious liberty crisis, especially for the Catholic Church and its members. No sooner had HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius disclosed the scope of the Administration’s plan than we expressed concern that Catholic hospitals and other Catholic institutions might be forced to close their doors. http://deusetpatria.com/2012/01/21/will-catholic-universities-and-hospitals-close/ Sadly, our concern proved to be well-founded. Five weeks later, Cardinal George of Chicago told Catholic institutions to prepare to close within two years. http://deusetpatria.com/2012/02/28/cardinal-george-warns-closing-of-catholic-hospitals-universities-in-two-years/ .
We have examined why the Catholic Church must not, cannot, and will not reverse its course by simply complying with Administration demands. http://deusetpatria.com/2012/03/03/why-the-catholic-church-will-not-comply/ . We reported on the grave fiscal implications that this crisis may pose for this nation and, especially, for our most vulnerable citizens. http://deusetpatria.com/2012/03/04/from-the-fiscal-times-the-hhs-mandate-would-devastate-the-poor-by-forcing-catholic-hospitals-to-close/ .
Responses from the bishops have been reported and closely reviewed. http://deusetpatria.com/2012/02/29/from-the-national-catholic-register-crossing-the-rubicon/ ; http://deusetpatria.com/2012/03/04/masterful-confrontation-the-unprecedented-threat-to-religious-liberty/ .
When we reported that some religious sisters dissented from the bishops in favor of the mandate, we went on to present a detailed analysis of the two very different groups of women religious in the United States. We noted that the most dynamic religious communities are in strong support of the bishops. http://deusetpatria.com/2012/02/26/what-americas-real-nuns-are-saying-and-the-cmswrs-national-call-to-prayer-and-fasting/
We have linked to the writings of faithful Catholic scholars about the mandate. http://deusetpatria.com/2012/02/24/father-joe-personal-conscience-and-religious-liberty/ ; http://deusetpatria.com/2012/03/07/the-unprecedented-marginalization-of-religious-liberty-mary-ann-glendon-sounds-the-warning/ .
We also reported on the concerns being expressed by both Church and civic leaders . http://deusetpatria.com/2012/02/12/the-obama-mandate-religious-liberty-and-the-gathering-firestorm/.
The brazen, White House attempt to undermine the leadership of Catholic bishops with the help of Catholic dissidents, a friendly media and White House mailings was exposed and condemned.http://deusetpatria.com/2012/02/10/newsflash-white-house-says-catholics-and-planned-parenthood-now-agree/ ; http://deusetpatria.com/2012/02/10/white-house-as-snake-oil-salesman/.
The tactics of Catholic dissenters were reviewed, sometimes through links to other commentators. http://deusetpatria.com/2012/03/01/liberal-catholic-pawns-in-the-obama-religious-wars/
The political fallout from the crisis also was reported and analyzed. http://deusetpatria.com/2012/02/13/poll-shows-obama-mandate-causes-a-deep-division/ ; http://deusetpatria.com/2012/03/05/the-lefts-war-on-religious-liberty-is-backfiring/ ; http://deusetpatria.com/2012/03/02/are-kennedy-catholics-in-massachusetts-returning-to-catholic-beliefs/ ;
Finally, we proudly promoted the upcoming religious liberty rallies: http://deusetpatria.com/2012/03/04/rally-for-religious-freedom-across-america/
In short, the Obama Administration’s confrontations with America’s religious bodies are unprecedented. At Deus et Patria, these unfolding events will be reported, analyzed and discussed from a loyal Catholic perspective. And though we have a point of view, we try to get all our facts right.
If you like this article, please click on the FOLLOW BLOG VIA EMAIL button on the right column (it’s free) to receive e-mail alerts when a new article is published at Deus et Patria.