Under this administration and this Congress -- which includes the Republican-controlled House of Representatives led by Speaker John Boehner -- the right of Catholics to freely exercise their religion is treated with less deference than the presumed right of stockyard owners to fill the skies with effluvia.
I mean this literally.
When Congress wants to stop the Executive Branch from doing something, it has a simple constitutional means: Deny funding for that activity.
The $914.8 billion spending law Congress passed last week to keep the government funded through the end of fiscal 2012 -- which does not come until Sept. 30 of next year -- is full of provisions that use this mechanism to achieve aims both great and small.
Take, for example, Section 427. It aims to protect businesses that accumulate animal excreta from greenhouse gas regulations that might be issued by the EPA.
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law," says this section, "none of the funds made available in this or any other Act may be used to implement any provision in a rule if that provision requires mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems."
Thanks to this provision, Congressional Quarterly Today reported, "large livestock and poultry operations will remain exempt from any EPA efforts to collect information about greenhouse gas emissions from manure."
What you will not find in the voluminous $914.8 billion spending law is any language that effectively says: None of the funds made available in this or any other Act may be used to implement any rule or regulation under Obamacare that requires health care plans to cover sterilizations and contraceptives, including abortifacients, or that requires any individual, organization, institution, or business to purchase a health care plan that covers sterilizations and contraceptives, including abortifacients.
Such a provision would have stopped the Obama administration from carrying out a regulation -- set to take effect on Aug. 1, 2012 -- that will require all health care plans to cover, without any co-pay, sterilizations and all-FDA approved contraceptives, including those that cause abortions.
The regulation, published in August by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, includes a very narrow exemption for "religious employers" -- but no exemption at all for religious individuals.
Because the "religious employer" exemption will only apply to an institution that has "the inculcation of religious values as its purpose," "primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets," "primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets" and is organized under the specific provision in the tax code that applies to churches, the exemption will not extend to Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations that hire and serve Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Simply put: The regulation will force individual American Catholics and Catholic institutions to choose between obeying Obamacare or obeying the unchangeable teachings of their church that say sterilization, artificial contraception and abortion violate the natural law and that Catholics cannot be involved in them.
Simply put: The regulation violates the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the "free exercise" of religion.
Simply put: The regulation is an un-American and tyrannical act.
The $914.8 billion spending bill the House passed last week gave the House Republican leadership one last chance to attach to a must-pass-must-sign bill language that would expressly bar funding for this tyrannical act. Because the bill funds HHS through Sept. 30 of next year, and because HHS set the regulation to take effect on Aug. 1, the new bill gives HHS the money it needs to start enforcing the regulation next summer.
Now, American Catholics are at the mercy of President Obama. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has appealed to the administration, asking HHS to rescind the regulation, and calling it, accurately, an "unprecedented attack on religious liberty."
But at an October fundraiser in St. Louis, Obama arrogantly bragged about the regulation. "Darn tooting," he said. "They have to cover things like mammograms and contraception as preventive care, no more out-of-pocket costs."
At a briefing in late November, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama had not yet made a decision on whether to alter the regulation.
Exactly how long does Obama need to decide whether his administration should deliberately violate the religious freedom of Catholics?
The Catholic bishops have taken a clear and courageous stand against Obama's regulation. We now know there are no national leaders in elective office ready to take an equally clear and courageous stand in defending the religious liberty of Catholics.
They are too busy protecting manure makers.