Opinion: Columnists

Sunday Reflection: Dividing Catholics from their church

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"Catholicism teaches that it is a sin to use, provide, or otherwise support contraception."

These words are not from the Catholic Catechism or a sermon by a Catholic bishop. They are excerpted from the preliminary injunction U.S. District Judge Robert H. Cleland issued last month. It temporarily stopped the Obama administration from forcing a family-owned outdoor power equipment company to comply with an Obamacare regulation that requires virtually all health care plans to provide women (but not men) with coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.

The judge stated the Catholic teaching on contraception as an undisputed fact of the case Weingartz v. Sebelius. The Obama administration is not arguing that the Catholic Church does not actually teach this, but rather that the administration has the authority to tell Americans they can no longer practice Catholicism. What the administration argues is that it can order Catholics to act against their faith. It can order a Catholic business owner to provide his employees with coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

Elsewhere, the administration argues it can order Catholic institutions -- such as the University of Notre Dame -- to provide employees and students with coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

Still elsewhere, by mandating that all individuals must buy government-approved health care plans (whether through an employer or a government health insurance exchange), the administration argues that it can order all Catholic laypersons in the United States to act against the teachings of their faith.

The Catholic bishops of the United States have unanimously declared this "an unjust and illegal mandate" that violates the freedom of conscience not just of Catholic institutions and Catholic business owners, but also of individual Catholic laypersons who do not own businesses or manage Catholic institutions.

The regulation, the bishops said, is a "violation of personal civil rights." It creates a class of Americans "with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values. They, too, face a government mandate to aid in providing 'services' contrary to those values -- whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees; or as insurers themselves -- without even the semblance of an exemption."

Catholics lose the right to live according to the moral teachings of their church when they start a business. "Weingartz Supply Company is a for-profit, secular employer, and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion," Acting Assistant Attorney General Stuart F. Delery argued in a submission to Judge Cleland.

"The Free Exercise Clause does not prohibit a law that is neutral and generally applicable even if the law prescribes conduct that an individual's religion proscribes," Assistant Attorney General Delery told the court. "The preventive services coverage regulations fall within this rubric because they do not target, or selectively burden, religiously motivated conduct."

In plain English: As the Obama administration interprets the First Amendment, it cannot order only Catholics to pay for the administration of a drug that kills an unborn child, but it can order all Americans -- including Catholics -- to do so.

Many bishops have spoken out clearly and courageously against President Obama's attack on religious freedom. Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who leads the Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services, wrote a letter to be read by chaplains at Sunday masses attended by U.S. military forces. Obama's mandate, the archbishop said, is "a blow to a freedom that you have fought to defend and for which you have seen your buddies fall in battle."

In his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II cited St. Thomas Aquinas in explaining the Catholic teaching on unjust laws. "[H]uman law is law," Aquinas wrote, "inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence.' "

"To refuse to take part in committing an injustice is not only a moral duty," the pope concluded. "It is also a basic human right."

President Obama has launched the greatest attack on religious liberty in the history of the United States. He hopes to divide Catholics from their church and American law from truth and justice. There is no middle ground here. Freedom of conscience is an alienable right, and Obama is more wrong about the meaning of liberty than any American president has ever been.

Examiner columnist Terence P. Jeffrey, the editor-in-chief of CNSnews.com, is syndicated by Creators.

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