February, 2008: During the Democratic primaries, candidate Obama promises he will not push for a health insurance mandate. He told Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show: “If things were that easy [requiring all Americans to buy health insurance], I could mandate everybody to buy a house, and that would solve the problem of homelessness. It doesn’t.”
March 23, 2010: President Obama signs the unconstitutional Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including a mandate provision requiring Americans to either buy health insurance or pay a fine.
August 3, 2011: The Administration issues an Interim Final Ruling with a so-called exemption for religious employers. However the exemption is so narrow that religious universities, hospitals, charities and schools are still required to pay for insurance policies that violate their faith and mission.
September 28, 2011: Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins submits a formal complaint to the Administration requesting a broader exemption.
January 20, 2012: Ignoring Jenkins, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (whose father, ironically, taught at Notre Dame) issues a final rule emphasizing that all health plans must include contraceptive services and religious employers have one year to comply.
February 10, 2012: Obama issues an “accommodation” on the HHS mandate. However, it is a “Pontius Pilate” accommodation whereby religious institutions can merely pretend to wash their hands of questionable practices.
Under the accommodation, religious employers like Notre Dame still have to purchase insurance contracts that cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization for their employees—but the insurance company, not Notre Dame, has the duty of “notifying” Notre Dame’s employees that they are entitled to this coverage. So, nothing changes. Catholic employers must subsidize services that violate their faith and mission. Additionally, Catholics who work for or hold stock in insurance companies must compromise their First Amendment rights.
Over 500 college professors, religious leaders of diverse faiths and healthcare professionals sent Congress an open letter titled “Unacceptable” stating: “This is a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand. It is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept an assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick.”
I think Notre Dame’s formal complaint best expresses what is at stake:
“The U.S. Government Mandate, including the narrow exemption for certain ‘religious employers,’ is irreconcilable with the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and other laws. The Government has not shown any compelling need to force Notre Dame to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to these objectionable services, or for requiring Notre Dame to submit to an intrusive governmental examination of its religious missions. … If the Government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in such a manner, there is no apparent limit to the Government’s power. Such an oppression of religious freedom violates Notre Dame’s clearly established constitutional and statutory rights.”
Whether or not you are religious, the Administration is bypassing the Constitution and using executive power to strip you of your First Amendment rights. So, root for Catholics to win in court because they are fighting for your constitutional freedoms of religion, free speech and expression. Rah! Rah! Rah!
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