October 24, 2013
After weeks of political rhetoric, ideological stand-offs and blame-throwing, the US government went into a partial shutdown on October 1, 2013, the first time in 17 years. Neither side of the political aisle was able to reach out to the other on the budget. The hotly debated issue of Obamacare (the
Affordable Health Care Act) became the divide. In the eyes of many, the new health care system rests on a flawed foundation.
Opponents of the new law argue that the law is not fair. The members of Congress who are imposing this new health law on their fellow Americans were able to secure for themselves an exemption from the law’s burdensome restrictions. 729 companies and unions, e.g. Bowman Sheet Metal Heating & Air-conditioning and Bricklayers Insurance & Welfare Fund, have likewise gained exemptions. Yet, there are many other companies, organizations and individuals who are being denied exemption from the law. So complicated are the requirements of the new law that it is difficult to sort out whether such decisions are made on just principles or on political expediency.
It is, therefore, no surprise that lawsuits challenging Obamacare are now elbowing their way into court. Twenty-seven states have brought lawsuits against the new law. And, twenty-three other groups have gone to court over the Health and Human Services mandate requiring, under the new law, that employers provide their employees insurance coverage for sterilization, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
With time, we will learn whether or not, as some assert, the new health care system will cost more for the majority of Americans. With experience, we will discover whether or not it will reduce the quality of our care. But there is one thing we need no time to learn. The Health and Human Service mandate violates religious liberty and, when enforced, will have catastrophic effects on the charitable mission of the Catholic Church in every part of our country.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has already filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Ever since their founding by St. Jeanne Jugan in 1839, the Little Sisters have been providing assistance to the needy elderly. Today, their homes are found in 31 countries. But, now their work in the United States is in jeopardy.
Under the new health law, the government is requiring the thirty homes which the Little Sisters run in the U.S. to subsidize their employees’ access to sterilization, contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and related education and counseling. These services are clearly in violation of the teaching of the Catholic faith. Nonetheless, if the Little Sisters do not provide access to the mandated services, the Internal Revenue Service, beginning January 2014, will impose heavy fines that will effectively shut down the Little Sisters’ homes for the elderly.
Should the Little Sisters of the Poor be forced to violate their conscience in order to continue their charitable work? Doesn’t the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty have value for them and other groups who find some requirements of Obamacare contrary to their religious beliefs? Sadly, the Little Sisters’ case against the new health law is just one of seventy
-pending cases under the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act, law meant to protect those bound by religious conscience against laws deemed to violate their free exercise of religion.
The Catholic Church has a long and proven history of caring for the sick, the needy and the poor. Her religious, both men and women, as well as her laity have sacrificed so much to provide loving care for all in need. What could possibly explain the government’s determination at this time not to allow this to continue? Why are there no exemptions to allow the Church to continue her charitable works that embrace, not simply Catholics, but all persons in need? Why is our religious freedom now in peril? Why should we be required to comply with regulations against our beliefs? Why must the Church be forced to pay for legal fees to protect her rights to serve the poor and the needy, instead of using her resources to help them?
The inability to dialogue on major issues facing our nation, the stubborn determination to hold to one’s own opinion and the reckless demonizing of those who hold another opinion have led to the shutdown of our government. Will the same intransigence lead to the shutdown of the many charitable works of the Catholic Church?
Will we allow this to happen?