Kathryn Lopez

Confronted with a "train wreck," the new archbishop of Baltimore implores us to "pray diligently as communities, as families and as individuals."

Coming from a man of the cloth, this wouldn't be breaking news, except the train in question is driven by President Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. As part of the health-care overhaul, the administration is bent on forcing American employers to offer health-care coverage that includes contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, regardless of any moral objections.

And so Archbishop William Lori's prayer is for religious liberty.

It's an ecumenical prayer that requires ecumenical labor. During a speech at a conference on religious freedom, Lori made clear that this religious liberty talk "is not about the Catholic Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the church -- consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions -- to act against church teachings."

We are confronted at this moment with a question of integrity, a question that goes right to the heart of the ethical and religious principles that shape us as a nation: Are we as committed to liberty as we say we are?

This question of integrity is why Georgetown University wins this year's competition for most audacious commencement ceremony: Having Sebelius speak on campus was a dereliction of moral duty, sending a message of complacency at a time that demands action from any American who values freedom. We have long been the place where people come to flee tyranny. But are we comfortable with it at home? It's not just another left-right squabble, this health-care fight -- it strikes at the core of who we are.

Drastic measures are being taken: Numerous institutions have filed lawsuits against HHS. More alarmingly, the Franciscan University of Steubenville announced that it would no longer provide student health plans. That the Ohio Catholic college found itself forced into this position is, as a letter protesting the Obama administration's actions put it, "unacceptable."

"It is simply a matter of integrity that what we teach in the classroom, advance in our student life and preach in the chapel is consistent with how we use our limited resources in regard to health care," says Michael Hernon, vice president of advancement at Franciscan.

"The question is whether, under Obamacare, students who want to attend an authentically Catholic university will be able to do so without being disadvantaged," is how Thomas Messner of the Heritage Foundation explains it on the organization's blog. He further points out that these predicaments about conscience "should lead those who care about religious freedom to ponder more deeply the ways that religious freedom goes hand in hand with the condition of freedom more generally."

He adds that the health-care legislation itself "represents an enormous intrusion by government into freedom of private choice and decision-making more generally." That the law "has already triggered" the deepest imposition on religious freedom our nation has known should come as "no surprise" given the nature of the beast. Messner isn't speaking as a good conservative think tank fixture hitting ideological talking points but as someone concerned about the future of civil society, noting: "A society that abandons its moral and political commitment to freedom in general will become less willing and indeed even hostile to protecting religious freedom in particular instances."

This is why Archbishop Lori, in his speech, said: "The HHS lawsuits, if successful, would only provide a Band-Aid solution to the greater problem of radical secularism that we face in this country."

It's a faulty foundation that the president is offering for a vote in November. We stand on this new platform at our peril.


Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.