Bill Murchison

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a 175-year-old Catholic order of nuns that cares for the elderly poor, believes itself to enjoy a constitutional right to exemption from a federal mandate hazardous to the order's self-understanding.

The mandate, under Obamacare, is either to cover contraceptives and abortifacients for employees or to hand off coverage to the Little Sister's insurance carrier. The nuns oppose all artificial means of birth control.

Well, so what? The Department of Health and Human Services thinks it's being nice by allowing a religious institution to sign a document saying basically, "Ooooooohhh, birth control, bad! -- so, gee, thanks, insurance carrier, for hiding the ball in our behalf." The Little Sisters insist, in a lawsuit filed by their Denver chapter, that farming out the job to another party implicates them in the action they oppose.

The government's very odd way of prioritizing values -- free contraceptive devices measured as a higher good than any moral understanding possibly planted by God -- is characteristic of our times. Secular political ideals regularly trump religious scruples. "Made in Washington, D.C.," is a stronger product endorsement these days than "Thus saith the Lord."

The Little Sisters of the Poor have company in their distress over the government's theological arm-twisting. At the start of the year, 91 lawsuits were pending against the contraceptive mandate, which, though it exempts churches, applies to church-related institutions such as hospitals and universities. It applies as well to private businesses whose owners share scruples akin to those of the non-profits that oppose contraception.

The Green family, which owns the craft store chain Hobby Lobby, "finds no objection to the use of 16 of 20 preventative contraceptives required in the mandate." Quite a different matter from the Greens' standpoint are "four possible life-threatening drugs and devices," including Plan B and Ella. In a lawsuit the U.S., Supreme Court will hear in March, Hobby Lobby contends that the mandate undermines its right to religious freedom. Another complainant is the evangelical institution Wheaton College, whose president, Philip Ryken, supports Catholics in their struggle to "have the freedom to carry out their mission without government coercion."

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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