I wrote my column for the July issue of The Catholic Transcript a few hours after the decision of the Supreme Court was announced on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. What I said then by way of initial observations continues to be true.
As I indicated at that time, freedom of religion was not specifically addressed in the wording of the decision. It is accurate to state that the 22 federal court cases filed by 43 individuals and Catholic organizations against the mandates imposed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services continue to move forward.
The Court did not rule on the constitutionality of forcing people and insurance programs to pay for surgical sterilizations, contraception, and abortion inducing drugs. The rights of religious liberty and freedom of conscience are involved here.
It is important to note that Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “Even if the taxing power enables Congress to impose a tax on non-obtainable health insurance, any tax must still comply with other requirements in the Constitution.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing also for the majority, went on to state, “Other provisions of the Constitution also check congressional overreaching. A mandate to purchase a particular product would be unconstitutional if, for example, the edict impermissibly abridged the freedom of speech, interfered with the free exercise of religion, or infringed on a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause.”
It is clear that the Health and Human Services mandate must continue to be challenged. It does explicitly interfere with the free exercise of religion by forcing religious organizations to violate their religious beliefs.
Government Administration officials continue to define religious institutions as entities that hire and serve mostly people of their own religion. They would attempt to nullify, therefore, the religious exemptions of Catholic Charities, universities, colleges, high schools, elementary schools, hospitals, nursing homes, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, etc. They fail to understand that we sponsor these institutions, serving a wide variety of people, precisely because we are Catholic.
It is encouraging to report that some progress apparently is being developed. Discussions with representatives from Congress are indicating more appreciation for the importance of religious freedom and freedom of conscience in our laws and mandates.
The threats to religious freedom are ominous, calling for the active involvement of all of us. It is especially critical that we continue to contact those in public office, and those running for office, with our convictions on these matters. Religious freedom is a fundamental pillar of our society. We must be passionate in its support and stand forcefully against its erosion.
As you know, we are sending out weekly bulletins to our parishes for their publication. We are addressing the issues on television and radio, and our Archdiocesan website is covering the concerns carefully. Of course, The Catholic Transcript is steadfast in its coverage and advocacy.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is most supportive in its “Text Freedom” work. If you text the word FREEDOM (or LIBERTAD in Spanish) to 377377 on your mobile devices, you will receive timely information and alerts for helpful action.
These are momentous days for our country and our Church, a crossroads for the United States.
Reprinted with permission from the Catholic Transcript, official newspaper for the diocese of Hartford.