Head To Head
Does the HHS Mandate Inhibit Religious Freedom?
Published: Monday, October 8, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 8, 2012 12:10
Yes it does
The Health and Human Services Mandate, effective Aug. 1, 2012, has generated a lot of controversy. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued several open letters and briefs stating their united opposition to the mandate, while “support” has also come in the form of some particularly tasteless comments from Rush Limbaugh.
Supporters of the mandate, meanwhile, have had their own share of reasonable and implausible arguments. While some claim that contraceptive coverage is necessary for the health and well-being of women, others have suggested that Republicans “want to take us back to the Dark ages… when women were property” or that an exception for religious motivations would “allow big corporations to deny health care options to their female employees.”
Both sides have strong feelings on the matter, even though the implications of the mandate’s content seem unclear. However, on a closer look, it is clear that the Mandate narrowly defines “religious employer” in such a way that, should Christian employers, especially Catholic employers, be forced to comply with it, they would be forced to violate their consciences.
This issue is of particular importance to practicing, orthodox Catholics, who believe that the use, purchase, or provision of contraceptives or sterilization is immoral. This teaching has been held from the time the subject was written on by the early church fathers and was most famously and controversially reaffirmed in Pope Paul VI’s papal encyclical Humane Vitae, which, along with rehearsing the Church’s condemnation of contraception, made four predictions about the consequences of wide-spread contraceptive use which loomed ahead of the 1960s when it was written.
It is a key component of the Catholic life ethic, which cannot be compromised without causing the entire Catholic Church in America to engage in heresy. The most immediate cause for concern is the four-part test for determining whether an employer may be considered “religious.” This test requires that a “religious employer” must
“have the inculcation of religious values as its purpose”;
“primarily hire those who share its religious tenets”;
“primarily serve those who share its religious tenets”, and
“be a church, convention or association of churches, integrated auxiliary, or religious order.”
Employers which would not qualify as religious employers under this definition include Catholic hospitals, Catholic charities, as well as the Tyndale Publishing House, which publishes exclusively Christian books and other material, including the Bible in several forms. Tyndale cannot object to providing insurance, which they object to on account of the fact that it provides the RU486 abortifacient pill.
Though they clearly have a religious purpose, hire (presumably) primarily those of Christian persuasions, and serve primarily those of Christian persuasions, they are not exempt from providing objectionable insurance because they are for-profit and not a church or other allowed organization. The government has no business in defining which employers count as “religious.”
An attorney that defended Tyndale and other employers who have filed suits rightly called this differentiation “arbitrary,” and pointed out that many employers which are obviously religious in character and whose employees would reject the use of contraception fail this constrictive standard. This definition lacks common sense.
Further, the HHS Mandate stipulates that, per Federal Regulation 77 and a bulletin released on the same day the Mandate became effective, contraception will be provided at no charge and without cost-sharing by employees, thus making contraception one of the most easily accessible services under the Affordable Care Act and the Mandate.
If the government has first mandated that insurance covering contraceptives is required to be provided by the vast majority of employers, and if it has purposely made contraception one of the most accessible services it offers, the government not only endorses but is aggressively attempting to persuade Americans to adopt a contraceptive worldview, which holds, without a clear consensus and against much well-evidenced opposition, that contraceptives, sterilization and abortion are somehow necessary for women’s and men’s health.
This is despite the observations that all of these are elective procedures with viable alternatives, and that most if not all of these, including the condom, have well-established adverse side effects or defects. Keep in mind that people were more than capable of surviving and flourishing far before the advent of contraceptives, the vast majority of which came about only in the last 60 years. The government, again, has no business forcing this highly questionable worldview on its citizens.
The HHS Mandate has overstepped the boundaries of governmental power in the extreme. It has gone against all precedent for government interference with religion. In addition, this mandate’s supporters have suggested that the motives of those who oppose it come from a hatred of women, when religious liberty is the obvious issue at hand. The HHS Mandate inhibits religious freedom, and Americans everywhere, regardless of their position on contraception and other “preventative” services, must speak up to reform this unjust law.