Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, head of the U.S. bishops' conference, says the Obama administration has revoked the religious freedom of groups that do not regard women's fertility as as “disease.”
“The Catholic Church defends religious liberty, including freedom of conscience, for everyone,” the New York archbishop and conference president wrote in a Jan. 25 Wall Street Journal editorial, addressing the government's final decision to require contraception coverage in most new health plans.
With this decision, the cardinal-designate wrote, “the Obama administration has failed to show the same respect for the consciences of Catholics and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease.”
On Jan. 20 the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed it would impose the contraception coverage mandate on most religious institutions, with a narrow exception for groups whose main purpose is the “inculcation of religious values” among people of the same faith.
“Even Jesus and his disciples would not qualify for the exemption,” Cardinal-designate Dolan noted, “because they were committed to serve those of other faiths.”
Health and Human Services finalized the contraceptive mandate just days before the annual March for Life, an event that mourns the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.
As the U.S. bishops' president observed in his editorial, the decision came despite a landmark Supreme Court case in which all nine justices ruled in favor of religious ministries' right of self-determination.
“Scarcely two weeks ago, in its Hosanna-Tabor decision upholding the right of churches to make ministerial hiring decisions, the Supreme Court unanimously and enthusiastically reaffirmed these longstanding and foundational principles of religious freedom,” he recalled.
The court, he said, made it clear that religious institutions had the right “to control their internal affairs.”
But the Obama administration “has veered in the opposite direction.”
“It has refused to exempt religious institutions that serve the common good – including Catholic schools, charities and hospitals – from its sweeping new health-care mandate that requires employers to purchase contraception, including abortion-producing drugs, and sterilization coverage for their employees.”
Cardinal-designate Dolan called the move “an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience” that forces an “unacceptable dilemma” on believers: “Stop serving people of all faiths in their ministries – so that they will fall under the narrow exemption – or stop providing health-care coverage to their own employees.”
Non-exempt religious groups have been granted an additional year to comply with the mandate, a concession the future cardinal ridiculed – “as if we might suddenly be more willing to violate our consciences 12 months from now.”
First published in August 2011 as part of federal health care reform, the contraception coverage requirement has drawn criticism from a broad spectrum of groups – including Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians, as well as some Catholics known for supporting the president on other issues.
“Hundreds of religious institutions, and hundreds of thousands of individual citizens, have raised their voices in principled opposition to this requirement,” Cardinal-designate Dolan wrote in his editorial.
“Many of these good people and groups were Catholic, but many were Americans of other faiths, or no faith at all, who recognize that their beliefs could be next on the block.”
In Wednesday's editorial, Cardinal-designate Dolan stressed that religious liberty is also “the lifeblood of the American people” and “the cornerstone of American government,” guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.
Now, he warned, this right is jeopardized in the interest of preventing fertility.
“This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.”