The HHS Mandate: One Battle in a Two-Front War
Obama has opened two fronts in the war on religious liberty, and may try more.


Carl A. Anderson

Having argued for a ministerial exception in employment law incompatible with ministry in the Hosanna-Tabor case, the administration next proposed a conscience exemption for religious organizations incompatible with their religious conscience and core religious beliefs.

The administration would grant an exemption to the HHS regulations only if a religious organization hired people who share its beliefs. Simultaneously in Hosanna-Tabor, it argued that religious organizations ought to have very little autonomy in employment decisions.

The Orwellian nature of the administration’s approach to religion is not lost on the country’s churchmen. Indeed, this is classic doublethink — the ability to hold “simultaneously two opinions which cancelled (each other) out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them,” as Nineteen Eighty-Four described it.

Consider also the implications if the Justice Department had prevailed in the Hosanna-Tabor case.

Churches and religious institutions would have found themselves at the mercy of what the Supreme Court unanimously characterized as “government interference with an internal church decision that affects the faith and mission of the church itself.”

The administration’s underlying philosophy of government intervention at the expense of freedom of conscience reflects a willingness toward further unconstitutional interference with internal church matters. Such policies — and their public defense — seem to show a government intent on breaching religious protections and entangling government in religious decision making.

Many are asking: What comes next? The National Right to Life Committee makes a compelling case that the latest administration compromise on the HHS mandate paves the way for mandated coverage of “abortion on demand,” pointing out that such a move would be consistent with the administration’s prior logic.

And a distinguished list of constitutional scholars has already concluded that the administration’s “so-called ‘accommodation’ changes nothing of moral substance and fails to remove the assault on religious liberty and the rights of conscience which gave rise to the controversy.” Many religious believers have similar concerns and now foresee a future in which the rights of religious conscience are no longer welcomed in the public square and instead are being relegated to the tiniest of ghettos.

Worse still, with the combined effect of the administration’s arguments in the HHS regulations and Hosanna-Tabor, people of faith see the real possibility of having religious protection relegated by one policy to the very ghetto scheduled for demolition by another.

We the people won’t give up the first freedom guaranteed in our Bill of Rights. And the administration shouldn’t ask us to. Instead, following the example of the Supreme Court in its unanimous ruling on religious liberty last month, the administration should put ideology aside and work to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

— Carl A. Anderson serves as Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus. He also served for nearly a decade as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and is the author of Beyond a House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street and the Media.


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