A Second Term: The Struggle for Religious Freedom Continues
The people of the United States have elected President Barack Obama to a second term in the highest office of this country, virtually guaranteeing that the full effects of his health care law will come to fruition. The hope for a rapid change against the government infringement on religious freedom presented by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), with its Health and Human Services mandate for nearly all insurance plans to cover surgical sterilizations as well as contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices, has dissolved. We will experience the full extent of what is actually in the PPACA, not only since it has become law, as Nancy Pelosi indicated, but especially now that the threat of repeal is gone and the time frame for its yet-untested provisions—safely stored away until after election day—will soon be upon us. Catholic hospitals, universities, schools, businesses, and other private institutions must face, now more than ever, the hard reality of conscience and religious freedom violations in the health care law, which contains various harmful provisions that will take effect in January 2014 as well as the notorious HHS Mandate, which is already in effect.
Brave legal challenges against the HHS Mandate are already underway across the country. Cases have been brought by numerous Christian businesses and universities, and even by several Catholic dioceses. The National Catholic Bioethics Center has signed on to an amicus brief in the appeal of Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College. Some challengers, such Weingartz Supply Company in Michigan and Hercules Industries HVAC in Colorado, have already successfully secured injunctions against the enforcement of the mandate’s penalties until their cases can be heard in court. The certainty of continued support for the HHS Mandate from the executive branch of the federal government intensifies the moral obligation to continue fighting the unjust elements of the law through the ardent pursuit of other legal remedies on the federal and state levels, especially through the courts and lawmakers.
Authentic health care, brought to fulfillment through proper alignment with the natural moral law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, cannot be achieved through government-required financial support for intrinsic moral evils that contradict the true good of human persons, such as direct surgical sterilization, contraceptive drugs and devices, and abortifacients. Justice, equality, and fairness cannot be achieved through unjust laws. In the reverberating words of Pope John XXIII from his encyclical letter Pacem in terris, “laws and decrees passed in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience . . . Indeed, the passing of such laws undermines the very nature of authority and results in shameful abuse.”
Sacrificing religion and conscience rights on the altar of government largess cannot secure genuine respect for the people of the United States of America, a nation founded on the ideal of religious liberty and the importance of moral integrity for proper government. If we do not actively protect the right of free exercise of religion and the true good of all people, as understood in the natural moral law and in the Christian vision of human dignity that undergirds authentic health care, then we may soon find that they have been lost.
John A. Di Camillo, Be.L.
NCBC Staff Ethicist