President Obama and his administration have long played lip service to communities of faith. The president himself regularly quotes scripture in his speeches, and today he cited The Bible as a basis for his redistributionist tax policy.
Yet in their latest decision stemming from his namesake health care law, Obama and his allies have done nothing less than trample on the religious freedom of millions of American citizens.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic who favors unlimited access to abortion, has announced that the Obama administration will mandate that the overwhelming majority of faith-based institutions must pay for all FDA-approved forms of contraception in their health insurance plans. This requires every institution, regardless of religious qualms, to fund abortifacients, sterilization, and contraceptives with no out of pocket payments for employees or students on these plans.
Religious institutions had worked for months to convince the Obama administration to give them respite from this requirement. But instead of offering a broad exemption, Obama and Sebelius chose to require any institution which serves the non-faithful – in other words, nearly any organization other than an actual church – to provide these “preventive services”. This means the rule will apply to nearly every faith-centered non-profit, educational institution, and charity hospital in the country.
For Catholic hospitals and other providers supported primarily through philanthropy, which serve the poorest communities where there is often little financial incentive to set up shop, this is a crushing blow. They are being told that in order to minister to others, as their faith demands, they must set their deeply held theological beliefs aside at the whim of Washington elites.
The right to religious liberty is as essential to the founding of the nation we love as any other. It is enshrined not just in our founding documents, but was fundamental to the existence of the United States before it had its name, before Washington placed his hand on the Bible, before the Constitution or the Bill of Rights were even written.
Nearly four centuries ago, a small band of pilgrims landed on the shores of modern day New England in search of a land where they might worship in peace. Their principles of family and faith honored honest work, neighborhood, and thrift. These men and women formed the moral fiber of a new nation.
A hundred and fifty years after they arrived, their descendants stood shoulder to shoulder on Bunker Hill in defense of an as yet unwritten creed: that our rights are derived not from a faroff king, but proceed to each man from a Creator, and that these rights can never be taken away. In Britain, Thomas Macauley marveled at these sons of Puritans, who “humbly abased themselves in the dust before the Lord, but hesitated not to set their foot upon the neck of their king.” They did not rebel just against a tyrannical government, but the very idea of what government could demand of free men and women.
The clock is now ticking. The institutions affected have a year to prepare for the new law. Already some are openly preparing to defy it. Others see no option but to close their doors for good, rather than go against what they hold deeply as fundamental to their faith.
When asked about the matter a few months ago, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) scoffed at the concerns, saying flippantly that Catholic providers “have this conscience thing” that they really need to overcome.
The comment recalls the words of British author C.S. Lewis, who once wrote that “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive”, as “those who torment us for own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
The consciences of Obama, Pelosi, Sebelius and their allies are clearly undeterred by this move. But it's possible a line has been crossed here that is historically without national precedent. And some lines, once crossed, set in motion changes in the course of human events. In the end, free people either allow their nations to slip toward acceptance of the denial of human liberty, or gather in uprisings against tyranny around such dangerous ideas as "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."