The Catholic Church vs. 'ObamaCare'

The feds will soon require religiously affiliated hospitals and colleges to offer insurance coverage for contraception. Does that violate the first amendment?

The Catholic Church says President Obama violated the Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom by requiring religiously affiliated institutions to offer insurance coverage for birth cont
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Pool/Corbis)

U.S. Catholic leaders are "fighting mad with the Obama administration," says Michael Brendan Dougherty at Business Insider, and they're taking the fight to the pews. Over the weekend, Catholic parishioners nationwide were read letters from their bishops decrying the feds' recent decision to require religiously affiliated hospitals, colleges, and charities to offer insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization, and the "morning-after" pill — all of which the Catholic Church officially opposes. Churches themselves were given a religious exemption from the new rule, which is part of Obama's health care reform, but the bishops said forcing other Catholic institutions to comply violates "the fundamental right to religious liberty" guaranteed in the Constitution. American Catholics don't agree with the church on birth control — 95 percent use contraceptives, and 89 percent say it's their choice, not the church's. Still, is the Obama administration abusing its power?

These rules are perfectly reasonable: Catholic schools and hospitals hire and serve people of many different faiths, says Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. And if these institutions "don't want to follow reasonable, 21st century secular rules... they need to stop taking secular taxpayer money." Pretend that instead of the Catholic Church and the pill, we were "talking about, say, an Islamic hospital insisting that its employees bind themselves to sharia law." Obama critics would surely be "a wee bit more understanding" of his position.

"If you take taxpayer money, you have to follow taxpayer rules"

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Liberals will rue this "overreach": "It is Catholic hospitals today; it will be someone else tomorrow," says Ross Douthat in The New York Times. Now that liberals have made the health bureaucracy into "an instrument of culture war," it will be used to bludgeon them when the next administration takes control. But for now, Catholic institutions that serve the poor and sick face a "preposterous" choice: "Pay for practices they consider immoral," hire and serve only Catholics, or stop serving anybody.

"Government and its rivals"

Good thing we have a year to figure this out: There are compelling arguments on both sides, but we aren't working in a vacuum, says National Catholic Reporter in an editorial. Catholic institutions have until August 2013 to comply, and "it is worth taking the year to investigate how this matter is handled in those [28] states that [already] require religious institutions to cover contraception," and "in other countries where national health plans make contraceptives available to all." This can work — but we have to be reasonable and thoughtful, and reject the "hyperbole that boils so close to the surface."

"Issues of conscience, without hyperbole"

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