The Supreme Court’s recent decision on the Affordable Care Act highlights the importance of lay action on important matters such as religious freedom, said Maureen Ferguson, senior policy adviser for The Catholic Association.
“The bishops have called on lay Catholics” to defend religious freedom, she said, adding that one way to do this is to “educate about both the details and the principle” behind the contraception mandate that is still threatening religious liberty in America today.
Ferguson told EWTN News on June 28 that members of the laity need to rise up and take their proper place in the public square, particularly with regards to educating other people about the crucial issues at stake.
On June 28, the Supreme Court declared that the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is constitutional, including the law’s individual mandate that will require virtually all people to buy health insurance plans or pay a tax for failing to do so.
In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts explained that “the Court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act” because ultimately “that judgment is reserved to the people.”
Ferguson said that through its ruling, the high court has essentially “kicked this issue back to the people,” and if they want to change the content of the law, they need to do so through the public officials they choose to represent them.
This reflects the repeated calls from the U.S. bishops for the laity to stand up and take action in defending and securing religious freedom, she said.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that it did not have a position on the specific questions which the Supreme Court was considering in the recent case.
While the bishops have long stressed the need for all people, especially the poor and vulnerable, to have access to health care, they opposed the final passage of the Affordable Care Act because of its failure to protect against federal funding of abortion, provide essential conscience protection and offer fair treatment to immigrant workers and their families.
The bishops’ conference called on Congress to fix these “fundamental” flaws that remain in the law.
Ferguson said that the court’s ruling “shines the spotlight on Congress.” She encouraged the lay faithful to call their Congressional representatives to address the flawed legislation.
There is also a need for the laity to get involved by helping to “educate our fellow Catholics,” she added.
She emphasized a need to clarify misconceptions about the issues at stake. For example, she said, people who have not been following the development of the case may not realize that the “individual mandate” upheld by the Supreme Court is different from the “preventive services” mandate that was not part of the question before the court.
It is the latter mandate that the bishops have expressed serious concerns about, because it will require employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.
Ferguson stressed that the Supreme Court did not rule on the contraception mandate in its June 28 ruling.
A series of lawsuits has been filed by plaintiffs across the country to challenge this mandate, and these lawsuits will continue forward in the court system, unaffected by the Supreme Court’s recent decision.
Ferguson explained that the contraception mandate’s threat to conscience can be addressed through the lawsuits already in the courts, the actions of Congress or the elections in November. Along with efforts in these three areas, it is critical to continue to educate Americans about the mandate and its effects, she said.
She observed that “word is starting to get out” about the crippling fines that could shut down religious charities, schools and hospitals that cannot in good conscience comply with the mandate.
People must also realize that through the mandate, “the Obama administration is redefining what religious ministry is,” she said, adding that this is “shocking to people” once they understand what is happening.
Ferguson said that The Catholic Association will be “redoubling our efforts” during the current Fortnight for Freedom, a 14-day period leading up to Independence Day, in which the U.S. bishops have called Catholics to participate in activities aimed at prayer, education and public action in defense of religious liberty.
She encouraged concerned Catholics to join in the religious freedom efforts outlined on the websites for The Catholic Association and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as to participate locally in events being held by dioceses throughout the country.
“These efforts should not end when the Fortnight for Freedom ends,” she added. “This is really just beginning.”