Before the January 28-29 weekend, many bishops sent letters or video messages denouncing a new government policy. On January 22 The Department of Health and Human Services announced a policy that flies in the face of Catholic moral teaching about birth control and abortion. That new policy requires all employers, including Catholic institutions and non-profits, to provide birth control and abortion coverage in their health insurance policies.
In their responses to this policy announcement, the Catholic hierarchy is stressing the “freedom of religion” clause enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Archbishop Schnurr of Cincinnati disseminated a letter to the faithful on January 25, 2012. He opens his letter as follows: “I write to you concerning an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly, and that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith.” He states that with the new HHS policy “the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty.”
The letter calls for prayer and fasting while stressing the need for study of the issue. He also asked for citizen support and initiative in promoting new legislation that will reverse the decision of the administration. Perhaps the strongest part of his message is that “We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law.” Is this a call to civil disobedience? Are our bishops prepared to take that route to prison? Are we Catholics prepared to follow them? Here is a link to some of the responses already offered.
What more could be said? One thing I have not seen is any attempt to recognize the freedom of conscience and personal responsibility of individuals. What can be said?
Most Catholic institutions and religious ministries want to offer health insurance. Can the church and other non-profits obtain an exemption to this HHS policy? On the face of it there seems to be no room for compromise. Truly, this policy appears to be a “conform or die approach.”
If Catholic institutions and non-profits offer no health insurance, the government could impose heavy fines. Catholics should work to further explain their understanding of religious liberty, freedom of conscience and their right to change the government by electing a new administration. In fact, it appears to me that the Department of Health and Human Services has made a serious mistake, for it is pushing Catholics to work to change the current administration.
This issue is more complex than can be described here. But I hope that all our readers are ready to take political action and to engage in civil disobedience if necessary. What do you think we Catholics should do?
Photo Credit: Robin Gillett