Religious liberty at stake in birth control rule

If there were any doubt as to whether this administration is waging a war on religion, it should have disappeared by now.

The administration has ordered — without congressional input — that most health insurance plans cover preventive services for women, including recommended contraceptive services without charging a co-pay, co-insurance, or a deductible. That would include sterilization and emergency contraception, colloquially known as the morning after pill.

The federal government — actually just one branch of the federal government — ordering private companies to offer services at a certain price goes beyond the pale of decency in a free society. By itself, such an order would merit strong backlash from the people.

But it gets worse.

The order forces religious entities, ones that might have a moral aversion to birth control, to provide (i.e. pay for) this insurance for their employees.

Or as Green Bay, Wis., Bishop David Ricken said during Mass in St. Francis Xavier Cathedral on Jan. 29: “If we pay for those services for people who work for us, we are in effect saying don’t do it, but then giving the money to pay for it.”

So much for religious liberty.

“The government has entered the sanctuary,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The Constitution says you can’t prohibit the free exercise of religion. Those are religious values we have, related to the life issues. And now the government is saying, ‘No, you have to go against your teaching.’”

This rule came a little more than a week after a unanimous Supreme Court decision reaffirming that the Constitution’s First Amendment gives churches a broad right of autonomy.

While it applies to all religions, the rule is really an attack on Catholicism, which has proscribed the use of contraceptives for two millennia. Most Protestant faiths changed their rules on birth control beginning in the 1930s. Most Jewish traditions permit birth control in certain circumstances. The rest of the world’s religions either specifically permit birth control or do not address the issue at all. Even Islam permits birth control.

As a matter of disclosure, I am a lifelong Catholic. That being said, I do not agree with the church’s proscription against contraception. In fact, many polls show that a majority of Catholics disagree, including an American Enterprise Institute poll that placed that number at 78 percent of Catholics.

However, religion is not, nor should it be, run by opinion polls. The church leaders who set policy have consistently opposed birth control. I respect that.

Because the church’s official teaching is anti-contraceptive, the First Amendment requires the government to recognize and respect that belief.

The Supreme Court will strike down any law that restricts religious liberty unless there is a compelling governmental interest, the law is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest, and it is the least restrictive way to achieve the governmental goal.

This rule does not pass muster.

The government’s goal is to provide greater access to contraception.

Or, as Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, “This rule will provide women with greater access to contraception by requiring coverage and by prohibiting cost sharing.”

Ideally, the federal government should have absolutely no interest in contraception. I fail to see how that is a federal interest.

Even if one believes that the federal government has an interest in birth control, providing greater access is certainly not a compelling interest, especially given that contraceptives are easily available and not prohibitively expensive.

Nor will this rule achieve that goal. Forcing Catholic institutions to offer health coverage for contraceptives at best might result in a marginal increase in availability.

This rule was simply not necessary. It addresses a non-issue. There is not a pressing need to provide coverage for contraception for employees of Catholic institutions. There are other options for those who want such coverage. They can simply work elsewhere. They can also choose to purchase private insurance.

Finally, the rule will likely cause more problems than it solves. Catholic hospitals and charities provide a valuable service to their communities. Many poor people would not have access to health care if not for Catholic hospitals. Most of the Catholic hospitals with which I have dealt will subsidize the cost of the health care or offer it free.

St. Rita’s Medical Center here in Lima offers free care for any person who earns up to twice the federal poverty guidelines. That means a family of four earning less than $44,100 a year can receive free care. It also offers substantial discounts for those who earn more than that.

However, these organizations will now have to decide whether to violate their core beliefs or no longer offer health insurance to employees. They might also decide to close their doors. None of these options seem worth the marginal increase in access to birth control for a small number of Americans.

The biggest problem, though, is the attack on the Constitution by President Barack Obama and the militant liberal secularists in his administration. If left unchallenged, the damage to religious liberty in this country will be irreversible.

If this is allowed to stand, the administration will likely attack medical conscience clauses, which permit health care providers to opt out of providing services that violate their religions beliefs. It is easy to see a future rule forcing Catholic hospitals to actually perform sterilizations and abortions if Obama gets his way this time.

This rule should be shot down by the courts. Also, a Senate bill has also been introduced to repeal the rule. However, Obama should see the error of his ways and avoid such a costly battle.

He should remember that there are 25 Catholics in the Senate and 134 in the House of Representatives, including House Speaker John Boehner. They sit on both sides of the aisle. Vice President Joseph Biden is also Catholic.

More importantly, about 25 percent of the American electorate is Catholic and this is an election year.

Now that is an argument that even Obama can understand.

Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is a columnist with The Lima (Ohio) News, a Freedom Communications newspaper. He is also a veteran of the Iraq war and a law student at the University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio. Visit his blog at http://www.lucente.org. Readers may write to him at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807-1538, or e-mail him at tlucente@limanews.com. His telephone number is 800-686-9924, ext. 2095. Follow him on Twitter at http://tho.lu/twitter, Google+ at http://tho.lu/google, and Facebook at http://tho.lu/facebook.

This article was originally published at OfficialWire.com and is reprinted with permission

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

Get the news the mainstream media doesn't report. Sign up to get our daily newsletter and like us on Facebook