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Oral arguments heard on religious exemption to mandate


PHILADELPHIA — The U.S. District Court in Philadelphia heard oral arguments Dec. 14 in a suit that aims to take away the exemption granted in October to the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious employers allowing them to refuse to cover contraceptives for their employees on moral grounds.

A similar hearing took place Dec. 12 in U.S. District Court in Oakland, California. Read more »

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Catholic group asks U.S. government to drop appeal in HHS mandate case


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Catholic Benefits Association has filed a motion with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver over a three-year-old appeal by three Cabinet departments in a case involving the “HHS mandate” that says all employers must provide contraceptive coverage.

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

The association, which counts 1,000 Catholic institutions and privately run companies among its membership, including dioceses and hospitals, filed suit in 2014, seeking elimination of the mandate. The court granted a preliminary injunction because it believed the government’s action violated RFRA.

The government promptly appealed the injunction and since then has asked for several delays to argue its appeal. Defendants in the case are the Cabinet departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services, which issued the mandate in 2012 as part of the Affordable Care Act. 

The CBA wants the court to force the departments to meet a July 31 deadline the court set for them to address the association’s arguments.

In a filing made July 21, the CBA, based in Castle Rock, outside Denver, said the federal government does not need to ask for yet another extension in the matter.

The CBA motion cited four reasons the court should dismiss the appeal: “The parties agree that the mandate substantially burdens religious exercise. The parties agree that the mandate does not further a compelling interest. The parties agree that the departments have less restrictive means of advancing their interests. The parties agree that the mandate is illegal under RFRA,” the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Since the preliminary injunction, “the departments have filed status reports in the CBA appeals on 10 separate occasions” — two in 2015, five in 2016 and three thus far this year – “each asking the court to delay ruling on the merits,” said the association’s motion for summary judgment in the case.

“There is a possibility, given the current climate, we agree and we’re going to drop this thing,” CBA executive director Doug Wilson told Catholic News Service, adding his confidence this would happen was “not terribly high.”

“We’re still fighting this despite what’s come out of our own agencies,” Wilson said July 28, referring to the Trump administration, which is seen as friendlier to the CBA’s stance. “It would be very hard to explain that (legal) position, but it’s certainly possible,” he added. “Unfortunately, despite the fact that the court was very clear that they wanted a specific response to our filing and not another request for a time extension, they could come back and say, ‘We’re close to a new regulation, could we please have one more extension?’”

Wilson cited President Donald Trump’s May 4 Rose Garden address at which he unveiled his “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” executive order, when he told members of the Little Sisters of the Poor, another plaintiff fighting the mandate: “Your long ordeal will soon be over. … We are ending the attacks on your religious freedom.”

Almost a month later, on May 31, an HHS draft rule was leaked to the press. The 125-page draft would exempt religious groups from the contraceptive mandate. It still has not been formally issued, the CBA noted. It remained under final review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House Office of Management and Budget, according to the office’s website.


Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Cardinal says Trump’s religious freedom order begins to relieve burden of HHS mandate


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Many religious leaders viewed President Donald Trump’s executive order on religious freedom, which he signed in a White House Rose Garden ceremony May 4, as a step in the right direction.

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

In a ceremony for the National Day of Prayer prior to signing the executive order, Trump told the assembled religious leaders: “We’re taking big steps to protect religious liberty” and he assured them the government “won’t stand for religious discrimination.”

Three religious leaders, including Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, offered prayers during the ceremony. Just prior to the event, Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, met with Trump about the order.

In an interview with Catholic News Service at Reagan National Airport just after the White House ceremony, Cardinal DiNardo said the meeting with the president was brief but productive.

Earlier, in a statement, the cardinal said the executive order “begins the process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate,” referring to the mandate issued by the federal Department of Health and Human Services requiring most religious employers to provide coverage of artificial birth control for their employees even if they morally oppose it.

But Cardinal DiNardo also stressed that the U.S. bishops will “have to review the details of any regulatory proposals.”

The text of the order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” states that cabinet offices “shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”

During the White House ceremony, Trump told some of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the crowd: “Your long ordeal will soon be over.” The sisters are just one of the groups that challenged the federal contraceptive mandate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, superior of the Little Sisters’ Baltimore province, said in a statement that the sisters are “grateful for the president’s order and look forward to the agencies giving us an exemption so that we can continue caring for the elderly poor and dying” without fear of government punishment.

Another aspect of the order is a weakening of what Trump called the “unfair” Johnson Amendment during the May 4 event. The 1954 amendment bans churches and nonprofit organizations of all types from participating in partisan political activity at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.

Trump told the religious leaders that the order’s attempt to lessen restrictions of the amendment will be “giving our churches their voices back.”

The order states the Treasury Department shall ensure and “respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech.” 

It also calls for department officials to “not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization” for speaking about “moral or political issues from a religious perspective.”

Regarding religious liberty, the order is not very specific. It states: “In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant federal law, the attorney general shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law.”

Cardinal DiNardo, in his statement, stressed that in recent years, “people of faith have experienced pressing restrictions on religious freedom from both the federal government and state governments that receive federal funding.”

He noted that church agencies have specifically experienced such a restriction in adoption, education, health care and other social services, where he said “widely held moral and religious beliefs, especially regarding the protection of human life as well as preserving marriage and family, have been maligned in recent years as bigotry or hostility.”

“But disagreement on moral and religious issues is not discrimination; instead, it is the inevitable and desirable fruit of a free, civil society marked by genuine religious diversity,” he added.

Cardinal DiNardo told CNS that the executive order emphasizes that there should “not be an overly intrusive federal government” involved when a person or group is exercising one’s faith.

He also said the president seems to be putting some of these religious liberty issues directly in the hands of federal departments and the attorney general, which he called “an important dimension” and a “good way to have this unpacked.”

The White House did not release the full text of the order prior to its signing. A draft of an earlier version of the order, which included stronger language, was leaked and published Feb. 1 in The Nation magazine.

Regarding the new order, Cardinal DiNardo said in his statement that the bishops will “continue to advocate for permanent relief from Congress on issues of critical importance to people of faith,” noting that religious freedom is “a fundamental right that should be upheld by all branches of government and not subject to political whims.”

Richard Garnett, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said in an email that the order will likely be viewed as a commitment from the administration that it wants to protect religious liberty. “In terms of specifics, however, the order does very little and does not address a number of pressing and important questions.”

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, also welcomed the order and said the organization “looks forward to reviewing the details” of it with the hope that applying it will “allow Catholic Charities agencies to continue to serve all their clients in accordance with their inherent dignity while at the same time preserving the freedom of these agencies to serve in conformity with our beliefs.”


Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim



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Executive order missing? No religious freedom action from Trump yet


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Talk of President Donald Trump possibly signing an executive order on religious freedom, which drew both criticism and praise, has been replaced with discussion about what happened to it and what a final version, if there is one, will look like. Read more »

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5th Circuit says HHS accommodation on mandate not a burden on religion


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The religious rights of faith-based entities — including the dioceses of Fort Worth and Beaumont, Texas, and the University of Dallas — are not substantially burdened by the process to receive an accommodation from the federal government to avoid participating in a health care mandate for contraceptive coverage, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled June 22.       Read more »

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Director of Priests for Life calls ruling in its HHS suit ‘wrong’; says group won’t obey mandate


WASHINGTON — Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said a federal appeals court that ruled against his organization in its challenge to the federal contraceptive mandate “is wrong, and we will not obey the mandate.”

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued the unanimous decision Nov. 14.

“The court stated, ‘We conclude that the challenged regulations do not impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ religious exercise,’” Father Pavone said. “After studying the decision further, we will release more commentary.”

Priests for Life argued that the Obama administration’s procedure that nonexempt religious employers must follow to opt out of the contraceptive mandate violates the organization’s religious rights.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requires nearly all employers to cover contraceptives, sterilizations and some abortion-inducing drugs for all employees in company health plans. It includes a narrow exemption for religious employers that fit certain criteria.

To opt out, nonexempt religious employers must follow a procedure to inform the government of its religious objections to the mandated coverage. The government in turn informs a third party, such as the employer’s insurer or the administrator of its plan, that it must provide the coverage at no cost to the employee.

Previously these employers had been required to fill out a self-certification form, known as EBSA Form 700, to state their objection to providing the coverage and to direct a third party, usually the manager of an employer’s health plan, to provide the contested coverage.

Many religious employers that have sued over the mandate argue that even filling out Form 700 makes them complicit in providing coverage they find objectionable.

So last August, the Obama administration issued a new procedure whereby these employers must advise HHS in writing of their religious objections.

HHS itself will then notify the insurer for a health plan, or the Department of Labor will notify the third-party administrator for a self-insured plan, that the organization objects to providing contraception coverage. The insurer or third-party administrator must provide the coverage at no cost to the employee.

The District of Columbia circuit court ruled on an appeal filed by Priests for Life, after the same court dismissed the group’s lawsuit last December.

Judge Cornelia Pillard wrote the Nov. 14 decision, calling the “bit of paperwork” required to opt out of the mandate “straightforward and minimal.”

“Religious nonprofits that opt out are excused from playing any role in the provision of contraceptive services, and they remain free to condemn contraception in the clearest terms,” she added.

Employers that do not comply with the mandate face fines of $1,000 a day per enrollee in their health plan.


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Court rules against temporary injunction on mandate for Catholic groups


LANSING, Mich. (CNS) — The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a temporary injunction that had stopped enforcement of the federal contraceptive mandate against several Catholic entities in Michigan and Tennessee while they pursued further appeals of the mandate.

The Catholic plaintiffs include the Michigan Catholic Conference, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Catholic Diocese of Nashville, Tennessee, Catholic Charities of Tennessee, and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation. Read more »

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Court denies Notre Dame injunction on HHS mandate

February 25th, 2014 Posted in National News Tags: , , ,


CHICAGO — The University of Notre Dame must allow free coverage of contraceptives as required by the federal health care law despite its moral objections to doing so, said a panel of the 7th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in a late Feb. 21 ruling that denied the university an injunction against enforcement of the mandate.

The decision was handed down in the university’s appeal of a Dec. 20 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana denying it a preliminary injunction. Notre Dame then sought to obtain emergency relief from the 7th Circuit before the Jan. 1 deadline for the mandate to take effect and was denied.

In its lawsuit, Notre Dame argued that the mandate’s purpose “is to discriminate against religious institutions and organizations that oppose abortion and contraception.”

Judge Richard Posner, joined by Judge David Hamilton, wrote the majority opinion in the 2-1 ruling, saying the university has the option of following a so-called accommodation in the mandate that says employers who object to the coverage on moral grounds can fill out a form and direct a third party to provide the coverage to their employees.

In a brief statement Feb. 24, Notre Dame spokesman Paul J. Browne said: “Our concern remains that if government is allowed to entangle a religious institution of higher education like Notre Dame in one area contrary to conscience, it’s given license to do so in others.”

“Our lawyers are reviewing the 7th Circuit ruling and contemplating next steps,” he said.

Notre Dame and other Catholic entities that have brought dozens of lawsuits challenging the mandate on moral grounds say this third-party accommodation still does not solve their problem over being involved in providing coverage they reject for moral reasons.

In his ruling, Posner wrote: “If the government is entitled to require that female contraceptives be provided to women free of charge, we have trouble understanding how signing the form that declares Notre Dame’s authorized refusal to pay for contraceptives for its students or staff, and mailing the authorization document to those companies, which under federal law are obligated to pick up the tab, could be thought to ‘trigger’ the provision of female contraceptives.”

The mandate, under rules issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, requires nearly all employers to cover contraceptives, sterilizations and some abortion-inducing drugs to their employees in their company health plan. It includes a narrow exemption for some religious employers that fit certain criteria.

Religious employers who are not exempt can comply with the third-party accommodation.

In his dissent, Judge Joel Flaum said it was “clear that if Notre Dame were forced to pay for contraceptive coverage against its religious beliefs or else incur significant monetary penalties, this would be a substantial burden. In the university’s eyes, this form’s ‘purpose and effect,’ evident from the face of the regulations, is to accomplish what the organization finds religiously forbidden and protests.”

The deadline for employers to comply with the mandate was Jan. 1 or they would face thousands of dollars in daily fines.

On Jan. 2, according to the National Catholic Register, Notre Dame told faculty and staff that while its appeal of the mandate worked its way through the courts, a third-party administrator would notify them about access to contraceptives and other mandated non-objectionable services such as mammograms, prenatal care and cervical cancer screenings.

Flaum in his dissent noted that the form a nonexempt employer must use to direct a third-party administrator to provide the coverage “flatly states that it is ‘an instrument under which the plan is operated.’ Having to submit the (form), Notre Dame maintains, makes it ‘complicit in a grave moral wrong’ by involving it with a system that delivers contraceptive products and services to its employees and students.”


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Analysis: Organizations weigh in on how Supreme Court should handle HHS mandate

February 20th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , ,


Catholic News Service

After ruling in 2012 that certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act stand up to constitutional scrutiny, the Supreme Court’s next dip into legal challenges to the law focuses on whether for-profit secular employers can claim religious rights protections from some provisions.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, talks with Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington July 2. The two are part of a diverse group of religious leaders urging the U.S. government to “expand conscience protections” in its Health and Human Services mandate that requires almost all employers to provide coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

In addition to the standard briefs and replies filed by the two sides in each of the cases, the Supreme Court is being asked to consider the arguments raised by hundreds of organizations represented in “amicus” or friend-of-the-court briefs filed in advance of the court’s March 25 oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius.

The court is jointly hearing the cases, in which two federal appeals courts issued opposite rulings about the companies’ claims to a religious rights-based exemption from having to provide coverage for various forms of contraception in employee health insurance. The court is under no obligation to consider “amicus” briefs, but it typically does, and sometimes cites them in rulings.

There’s been a great deal of attention within the Catholic Church, in particular, to whether church-affiliated institutions may be exempted from the contraceptive provisions, widely described as a mandate. But the cases being heard in March deal only with how that mandate applies to for-profit, secular employers.

Cases over how the mandate is applied to nonprofit religious institutions, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, are still being addressed by lower courts and are unlikely to reach the Supreme Court before its next term.

Especially in comparison to the interest in lawsuits brought by dioceses, religious orders and church-run universities, there may be less public awareness of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods cases than there was of the Supreme Court’s highly publicized last venture into the ACA in 2012 primarily over the requirement that individuals buy health insurance. But the advocates for either side in the current cases are no less vehement that the outcome is crucial to how the 2010 health care law works, or doesn’t.

Among legal issues the briefs raise are questions based on past rulings about the circumstances under which an employer may claim faith-based exemption from various kinds of laws; about whether the federal government is trying to define religious beliefs and about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law passed by Congress in an effort to reverse what was perceived as a rollback of Free Exercise rights in a 1990 Supreme Court ruling.

One key Supreme Court case raised in many of the amicus briefs on both sides is U.S. v. Lee, a 1982 unanimous ruling which said an Amish employer could not be exempted from paying Social Security taxes for employees of his for-profit business.

The court found that “while there is a conflict between the Amish faith and the obligations imposed by the Social Security system, not all burdens on religion are unconstitutional,” the court said. “The court may justify a limitation on religious liberty by showing that it is essential to accomplish an overriding governmental interest.”

Amicus briefs supporting the government’s position that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods should not be exempted argue, for example, that “the ACA does not require corporations to administer or use the contraceptive methods to which they object, nor does it require them to adhere to, affirm or abandon a particular belief,” said a brief on behalf of 91 members of Congress.

It quoted from Lee: “Every person cannot be shielded from all the burdens incident to exercising every aspect of the right to practice religious beliefs.”

On the other side, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argued that applying Lee to the companies should mean “the court should accept at face value Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s earnest belief that they cannot in good conscience comply with the mandate. But instead of accepting that representation, the government would have this court conduct its own analysis of whether compliance with the mandate should be taken to violate those convictions.

“In other words, rather than analyzing whether the mandate puts substantial pressure on Hobby Lobby and Conestoga to abandon their religious opposition to providing the mandated coverage, the government would have this court evaluate whether compliance with the mandate amounts to a substantial violation of their religious beliefs.”

The dozens of amicus briefs filed on either side include sometimes unusual combinations of religious institutions, civil rights organizations, politicians, academics and secular employers.

For instance, the partners in one brief supporting the for-profit employers were Drury Hotels, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, the Christian Medical Association and groups of pro-life nurses and doctors. In another, Ave Maria University, a Catholic institution, teamed up with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Crescent Foods and the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, a Santeria church that brought a successful religious rights lawsuit against the city of Hialeah, Fla., over its law prohibiting animal sacrifices.

Among institutions filing solo briefs in support of the employers were the USCCB, the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Medical Association, the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Family Research Council.

Other joint briefs supporting the companies were filed by: 67 Catholic theologians and ethicists; several religion-related publishers and a coalition that includes the American Bible Society, the Anglican Church in North America, Prison Fellowship Ministries and the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On the other side, one large-coalition brief was submitted on behalf of two dozen participating organizations including several Jewish institutions; Dignity USA and New Ways Ministry, both of which minister to gays and lesbians; the Hindu American Foundation; Catholics for Choice; the Women’s Ordination Conference and the Disciples of Christ Church.

A brief filed on behalf of 19 Democratic or independent senators in support of the government’s position was countered by one filed for four Republican senators on the other side. Another represented 20 church-state scholars who framed the cases in terms of Establishment Clause jurisprudence.

Also filing in support of the government was a group including the Freedom From Religion Foundation; Bishopaccountability.org and several other groups whose work focuses on support for survivors of sexual abuse.


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Viewpoint — Little Sisters of the Poor won’t be cheerleaders for the sexual revolution


Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius – the title of the lawsuit is chilling. A self-sacrificing order of Catholic nuns is involved in a lawsuit against the nominally Catholic Secretary of Health and Human Services. A lot had to change in America to bring about such an absurd conflict.

The lawsuit, as most of us know, has to do with the insistence of the Little Sisters that they are a religious organization and therefore should be excused from the HHS regulation requiring that their health insurance plans provide coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures without copayment or deductible. This mandate is a regulation imposed by Sebelius under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It is not part of the law, as news reports sometimes indicate.  The conflict could be ended with the stroke of a pen, but in spite of the unseemly spectacle of this lawsuit and dozens like it, the administration holds firm.

There are certainly political reasons for the administration’s position, but politics is downstream from culture, as the saying goes. Political systems and the governments tend to reflect the most widely held values in the culture. And that’s why the Little Sisters of the Poor, known and loved in this diocese, are in hot water with the government. They dare to swim upstream against the culture.

For decades now the culture has embraced the sexual revolution with its conviction that no sexual activity or arrangement is ever intrinsically wrong, so long as those involved are consenting adults (or adolescents for that matter).

What Pope Benedict before his election in 2005 called the “dictatorship of relativism” is on full display here. Nothing is good or bad in itself; whatever the self really wants it is entitled to have. And the uninhibited modern self demands unlimited access to safe sex  (The idea of “safe sex” is a magnificent bit of male chauvinism, but that’s for another day.)

The sexual revolution depends on reliable contraception. Otherwise babies might interfere. The promise of reliable contraception was fundamental in creating the notion that sex, marriage and reproduction could and should be separated.  But since people and contraception tend to be unreliable, the sexual revolution also requires abortion as a back-up to escape from consequences and responsibility.

The sexual revolution has brought catastrophe in its wake. Out of wedlock births have passed the 40 percent mark in America. Fatherless children, especially boys, face a much higher risk of failure, violence and criminality, while their sisters grow up with no idea of a husband and father.

Marriage rates decline, and in spite of the number of out of wedlock births the birthrate sinks below the replacement level putting the social safety net at risk. Sexually transmitted diseases proliferate.

Marriage itself is redefined as a contract between adults who happen to be in love, and children become a mere accessory, fine but only if they are necessary for adult happiness. Men are freed from any sense of obligation to the women they have sex with, and many are thereby rendered perpetually adolescent.

And polls show female unhappiness at historically high levels. The hook–up culture is fueled by drugs and alcohol, and the news media have finally noticed that rape on campus may be as common as in the military. There is little to indicate that people who are freed from sexual restraint are in any way happier or that society is better off as a result. The sexual revolution is a false god, and all false gods are murderous.

In few areas is the Catholic Church more countercultural than in this one. The beautiful vision of marriage as permanent, exclusive, and open to new life is foreign to the mindset of the sexual revolution. Our belief that marriage is built into nature for human good looks quaint. The idea that marriage is sacramental, that it brings grace and aids us on the way to salvation, is incomprehensible.

Powerful forces find this Christian understanding of marriage and sex not just odd but intolerable. For them not even the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion may be allowed to slow down the sexual revolution.

The lack of free birth control would inhibit the imperial self’s unalienable right to sex. Therefore, the Little Sisters of the Poor must pay. Never mind that the pill is cheap. Never mind that all sorts of necessary medications are not mandated in the same way, like insulin or antibiotics.

The HHS mandate makes no sense apart from the sexual revolution. The medications involved are legal, inexpensive, widely available and often subsidized by the government. Sandra Fluke, the cover girl for the mandate, manages to pay $50,000 a year in tuition at Georgetown Law School, but her need for free contraception is so absolute that the First Amendment must yield to it.  She must get her way, for then the sexual revolution is cheered and the Little Sisters are forced to cheer along.

It’s the cheering that the opposition demands. The church has no stake in controlling private behavior. In the words of Blessed John Paul II the church never imposes but only proposes. The church has learned to live and indeed to thrive in an open, pluralistic culture. And even in the Middle Ages and early modern era when the church sometimes did impose, it was never imagined that everything immoral should be illegal. We neither impose nor propose anything of the sort today. We simply propose the beauty of marriage.

Why, then, can the sexual revolutionaries not leave us, and the Little Sisters, alone?  The answer is quite clear. They demand to be cheered and enabled because at some level they are uncertain.

The culture is desperately afraid that it might be wrong. Promiscuity may be widely celebrated and giggled about, but there is a deep insecurity abroad, for God never meant sex to be safe and it cannot be domesticated by education and technology. The audacity of those stubborn nuns challenges the status quo. And the very existence of the Catholic Church threatens the dictatorship of relativism with the possibility of truth.

But if we can be forced to cooperate, if we can be co-opted, if we can be pushed into silence, then the hazard of the truth is removed. To live and let live is not enough.  Tolerance is not enough. If that were the case, the HHS mandate would never have been considered. Approval, endorsement and cheering are required.

There is a scarcely concealed secularist totalitarianism behind all this. Our opponents do not seek liberty; they already have it. They want control. Religion, conscience, and dissent and disrupt the smooth movement away from the noble American tradition of ordered liberty toward managed libertinism.

It’s not a matter of a few dollars more going to a health insurance plan. What is at stake in the Little Sisters’ courageous stand and that of the many other plaintiffs, Catholic and Protestant, is freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of association and freedom of conscience. What is at stake is the established American commitment that some things are outside the power of the state and that it’s better for everyone that they are.

On that the church too has always insisted.  Early Christians died rather than place a pinch of incense on the altar before the icon of the emperor. The same principle is at play today. God bless the Little Sisters for their refusal to offer incense to anyone but God.  They deserve our ardent support. They deserve our prayers. And they deserve from us the energy and the courage to recognize what is at stake.

Father Klein is director of Pro-Life Activities for the Diocese of Wilmington.

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