.- Catholic clergy, university presidents and health care leaders are saying the Obama administrationâs decision to mandate contraceptive coverage in health care plans without a broad religious exemption fails to protect the conscience rights of many Americans.
âThe inalienable rights guaranteed in our country's founding documents are being trampled,â lamented Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit. âWhere is the 'liberty' in a decision to intrude on freedom of conscience? The Constitution speaks of âfreedom of religion,â not âfreedom from religionâ.â
He said the Department of Health and Human Services is forcing insurers and insurance purchasers to âchoose whether or not to violate their moral and religious beliefs.â
The archbishop urged lawmakers to defend the rights of citizens against a âtruly unconscionableâ government mandate.
University of Notre Dame president Fr. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., said he was âdeeply disappointedâ by the decision, saying it will place many religious organizations in âan untenable position.â
âThis unnecessary intervention by the government into religion disregards our nationâs commitment to the rights of conscience and the longstanding work of religious groups to help build a more compassionate society and vibrant democracy. I find that profoundly troubling on many levels,â he said Jan. 20.
Fr. Jenkins called for a national dialogue among religious groups, government and the American people to âreaffirm our countryâs historic respect for freedom of conscience and defense of religious liberty.â
The Department of Health and Human Services on Jan. 20 announced the Obama administration would not expand a religious exemption for employers who object to a requirement that insurance plans cover contraception as part of âpreventative services.â The policy requires free coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that can cause abortions.
The policy provides a religious exemption only for organizations that employ and primarily serve members of their own faith and that have the inculcation of religious values as their primary purpose.
Sr. Carol Keehan, D.C., president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, said her organization is âdisappointedâ that HHS did not broaden its definition of a religious employer.
âThis was a missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection,â she said Jan. 20.
Sr. Keehan, who broke from the U.S. bishops to support the health care legislation which authorized the HHS action, said the challenge religious groups face under the bill is âunresolved.â She said there is a need for an âeffective national conversationâ on the âappropriate conscience protectionsâ in the U.S., which she said has âalways respected the role of religions.â
Catholic League president Bill Donohue said that many of those who side with legal abortion advocates also adhere to the âvery American principle of respecting conscience rights.â
â(W)hen these issues collide, the latter proves decisive,â he said Jan. 23.
Donohue cited critics of the new policy such as the editorial board of the Washington Post, whose Jan. 23 editorial said that requiring a religiously affiliated employer to spend its own money against its religious principles âdoes not make an adequate accommodation for those deeply held views.â
âThe Obama administration made a fatal flaw when it assumed that most people are not going to get worked up about healthcare plans that carry contraceptive coverage,â he said.
âThere is a high price paid for arrogance in politics. Stay tunedâthis issue isnât going to go away.â