“Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them?” Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience.
The mantle of Thoreau is today carried by the Roman Catholic Bishops of America who have said, individually and collectively that they will not obey – indeed that they can not obey – the unjust law of the Obama administration. As Vice President Biden might say, “this is a big f***ing deal.”
President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services now requires private health insurance plans to provide coverage for contraception, sterilization, and FDA-directed counseling and educational services. To the point, the President is violating the American right to religious practice.
By requiring Catholic health services to provide contraception and abortion services, as well as federal programs that promote these practices, Obama and the HHS impose an unjust law. Catholic teaching objects to contraception. Catholics also believe that life begins at conception, not implantation, not “viability.” In this Catholic understanding, chemical contraception that arrives after conception to prevent implantation is abortion. Care for the sick and poor are also core values of Catholics. With his mandate Obama is forcing Catholics to serve one and defy another religious belief or defy both.
All Americans should be outraged.
This is not a matter of abortion, or Catholic teaching. Surely one need not be a Catholic to value the free expression of religion. A right denied to one American makes it easier to deny another right to another American. Where is the full-throated outrage? Surely those obnoxious “coexist” bumper stickers on all those Prius’ apply to Catholics too?
The HHS mandate does not permit exemptions for religious objectors working for secular employers. It does not permit exemptions for any objections from religious employers.
With the most narrowly defined exemption in American jurisprudence, the mandate exempts only health plans that hold a primary purpose in the inculcation of religious values, and primarily serve, and primarily employ, people of the employers religion. Must Catholic hospitals either close or turn away the sick and ailing who happen not to be Catholic? Should they impose religious discrimination in the hiring of all employees?
Famously, John Adams, a man of impeccable patriotic credentials, provided a rousing and winning legal defense for the British soldiers who fired on citizens during the Boston Massacre. Adams understood that right is right. Adams knew that every man may hold his own values, and choose his own side in any disagreement, but all are entitled to the fair application of law.
Plato in The Laws wrote that “the state in which the law is above the rulers, and the rulers are the inferiors of the law, has salvation, and every blessing which the gods can confer.” Conversely, the fate of a state in which the law is inferior to the rulers is despotism.
The US Constitution provides that there be no laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Yet Obama is pushing Catholics to choose which of their tenets they value most, and in doing so, to deny another. The President has no right to do this.
The ever prescient de Tocqueville’s witnessed that “in France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other, but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country.” This have never been more true.
The Bishops are justified in opposing, rejecting, and refusing to comply. All should wish them a speedy victory. At stake is a fundamental American right.