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May 23, 2012

Column #1,604

Catholic Bishops Escalate Obama Battle

By Mike McManus


            In the Catholic war with the Obama Administration, 43 Dioceses and institutions took a brilliant step this week in filing lawsuits in all 12 Federal District Courts simultaneously.

            Donald Cardinal Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington said it was challenging the mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services “that fundamentally redefines the nation’s longstanding definition of religious ministry and requires our religious organizations to provide their employees with coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.”

            Joining the Archdiocese in its suit is Catholic University, a Catholic high school, a Consortium of Catholic Academies, and Catholic Charities serving the poor. 

            The press has flippantly described the issue as a fight over contraception.  Wuerl countered the lawsuit does not challenge “women’s established legal right to obtain and use contraception.”  Rather, it is about coercion – forcing the Archdiocese to offer it to its 2,100 employees, for free - plus sterilization and morning after pills to abort tiny infants.

            Jane Belford, Chancellor of the Archdiocese put it simply: “We must violate our religious beliefs or face crippling fines and penalties of at least $4.2 million a year.

            Anthony Cardinal Dolan of the New York Archdiocese, and President of America’s Catholic Bishops, explained its suit on CBS: “This is about religious liberty. The President says it is about women’s health. This is about religious freedom, not about contraception.”  

            The Administration says churches are exempt.  Dolan charged, “This exemption is so strangling and so narrow…They tell us if you are considered a church to be exempt, but you have to present yourselves as Catholic and can serve only Catholics.

            “When did the government get in the business of defining the extent of our ministry? We are being punished for serving so many, and for not asking for Baptismal certificates!  It is a presumptuous attempt to define for the church its role.  It is a straight-jacketed, handcuffing exemption which we find very dangerous.”

            Two of the five organizations joining the Archdiocese of New York are Catholic health  groups. A sixth of all hospital beds in America are Catholic. Another is Catholic Charities which helps victims of human trafficking, refugees, and offers adoption services. 


To Catholics only? Of course not

            Wuerl asserted, “For Catholics, the practice of faith has always required not just acts of worship, but also - necessarily – loving charitable service to others…Jesus Christ taught that obeying the first great commandment – loving God – must impel us to fulfill the second great commandment – loving our neighbor as ourselves.

            Wuerl quoted the Apostle James: “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

            He noted that Jesus said of his followers, “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me…Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:35-36).

            Thus, church leaders are using this moment to preach the Gospel. They are also painting the Obama Administration as being unbelievably oppressive. As Wuerl asserted, “HHS’ conception of what constitutes the practice of religion is so narrow that even Mother Teresa would not have qualified.”

            It is important to note that law suits have been filed as far back as November by both Catholic and Protestant colleges, such as Louisiana Baptist College and Geneva College  (Reformed Presbyterian).  As Mike Huckabee put it, “We are all Catholics now!”

            Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, put the issue trenchantly: “This is a debate about coercion, not Catholics; conscience, not contraceptives; and freedom, not fertility.  This is about principle, not `pelvic politics.’

            What’s particularly brilliant about this week’s 12 lawsuits in all Federal courts is the fact Obamacare’s constitutionality is being debated at this moment by the Supreme Court.  It will issue an opinion by the end of June.

            While the focus of the case before the Supreme Court is not about religious liberty, if it declares the law unconstitutional, the HHS regulations to implement it would be moot.

            In February I noted Obama “picked a fight with America’s Catholic bishops over religious liberty.  He’ll lose.”

In fact, Catholic voter support of Obama has already fallen from 53 percent to 45 percent.

If the issue continues, both Catholic and evangelical support will plunge.

Copyright © Michael J. McManus is a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers.

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