Infringement of Religious Liberty
Last week I shared with you about a Supreme Court decision that happily reversed an attack upon religious liberty by our government, specifically the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This past week yet another threat to religious liberty in this country is preceded from the Obama Administration. They have through the new healthcare law mandated that religious churches and other organizations, specifically the Roman Catholic Church, are obligated to cover through their health insurance programs things such as contraception which violates the Church’s teaching.
Now it is very important for you to understand that the issue here is not contraception. I think most of us don’t hold the Catholic view that contraception is something that is sinful or contrary to God’s will though we would share the conviction that abortion of a fertilized egg – a fetus – is certainly morally wrong. But that is not the issue. This is an issue of government intrusion into religious liberty where the wall or the separation between church and state is being broken down not by religious people trying to get the state to authorize religion; it is being broken down from the other side by the state attempting to mandate parameters of religious organizations. This threat to the separation of church and state in this country is an assault upon religious liberty that needs to be addressed and taken seriously.
Here is the story as The New York Times reported it.
The Obama administration said Friday that most health insurance plans must cover contraceptives for women free of charge, and it rejected a broad exemption sought by the Roman Catholic Church for insurance provided to employees of Catholic hospitals, colleges and charities.
Federal officials said they would give such church-affiliated organizations one additional year . . . to comply with the requirement.
. . .
Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church had personally appealed to President Obama to grant the broad exemption. He made the final decision on the issue after hearing from them, as well as from family planning advocates, scientific experts and members of Congress, administration officials said.
. . .
“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
. . .
Other opponents of the rule said they would seek legislation to block it and might challenge it in court as well.
The rule includes an exemption for certain “religious employers,” including houses of worship. But church groups said the exemption was so narrow that it was almost meaningless. A religious employer cannot qualify for the exemption if it employs or serves large numbers of people of a different faith, as many Catholic hospitals, universities and social service agencies do.
. . .
Under the government’s narrow criteria, the bishops said, “even the ministry of Jesus and the early Christian Church would not qualify as ‘religious,’ because they did not confine their ministry to their co-religionists,” but urged compassion for the sick and the poor, regardless of faith or creed.
The New York Times goes on to report that,
The National Association of Evangelicals said that as a result of the White House decision, “Employers with religious objections to contraception will be forced to pay for services and procedures they believe are morally wrong.”
. . .
The 2010 health care law says insurers must cover “preventive health services” and cannot charge for them.
Now that sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? “Preventive health services.” You would think that is things like vaccinations and things to help people stay well, right? Preventive health. No! It says,
The new rule interprets this mandate. It requires coverage of the full range of contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Among the drugs and devices that must be covered are emergency contraceptives including pills known as ella and Plan B. . . .
The issue forced Mr. Obama to weigh competing claims of Catholic leaders and advocates for women’s rights.
And it was the women’s rights advocates who won out.
The administration said in August that it intended to require coverage of contraceptives for women, as recommended by an expert panel of the National Academy of Sciences. But the White House reconsidered the issue after hearing protests from the Catholic Church and many Republicans in Congress.
The protests prompted debate within the administration. Ms. Sebelius and the president’s health policy team strongly supported the new rule. But Democratic members of Congress who lobbied the White House said they believed that Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, William M. Daley, and his special assistant for religious affairs, Joshua DuBois, favored a broader exemption.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, described the final rule as a huge victory for women’s health. . . .
Representative Lois Capps, Democrat of California, said, “The administration deserves credit for standing its ground and following the science.”
Now what a world of implication is said in that sentence. The administration “stood its ground and followed the science.” It doesn’t matter about issues of conscience, it doesn’t matter about medical ethics or moral values, it doesn’t matter about religious liberty or the preservation of religious liberty, they “followed the science” as though scientific naturalism just dictates what is and is not the truth about these things.
Archbishop Dolan said he discussed the issue with Mr. Obama last November and came away reassured that the president understood the Catholic Church’s position. Now, the archbishop said in the interview, “The sentiments of hope that stemmed from reassurances that I thought I received in November were apparently misplaced.”
And again I just want to emphasize – this is not an issue about contraception. This is an issue about religious liberty and freedom of religion from government intrusion, government mandate, and government control. So this is, I think, a matter of very grave concern which I certainly hope that evangelicals and other Christians, and really persons who hold to constitutional liberties in this country regardless of their personal faith, will address in the courts.
 Robert Pear, “Obama Reaffirms Insurers Must Cover Contraception,” The New York Times, January 20, 2012. See http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/21/health/policy/administration-rules-insurers-must-cover-contraceptives.html (accessed October 8, 2013).
 Total Running Time: 9:09 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)