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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.

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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.”

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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.

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

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