The Battle Continues, Beyond Rush
The struggle over the HHS mandate isn’t over.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan


George Weigel

The cardinal’s letter then described the difficulties of finding a legislative remedy to the problems caused by the mandate, noting that, in the recent Senate debate over the Blunt amendment, “our opponents sought to obscure what is really a religious freedom issue by maintaining that abortion-inducing drugs and the like are a ‘women’s health issue.’ We will not let this deception stand.” (As a concrete expression of that commitment, the bishops’ conference is preparing and will soon distribute materials for use in parishes, which make clear that the issue here is religious freedom.)

But as attempts to find a legislative remedy continue, Cardinal Dolan noted that the judicial path to the defense of religious freedom is the likeliest to achieve success, given both the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Thus the cardinal indicated that “our bishops’ conference, many individual religious entities, and other people of good will” are working with pro bono legal assistance to challenge the mandates in the federal courts; some suits have already been filed, and others will be filed in coming days. Given the Supreme Court’s recent Hosanna-Tabor decision, it is not easy to see how the administration will successfully defend its latest attempt to erode the institutions of civil society and violate individual consciences. That it will try to do so, however, is a fact of which voters should be constantly reminded as the year unfolds.

The rigor with which the bishops have challenged the administration and its HHS mandate has not been given the attention it deserves, except in the distorted sense that has dominated too much mainstream media coverage of the debate: that this is all about those antediluvian bishops trying to impose on the entire country a morality their own people reject. But under the leadership of Cardinal Dolan, Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, chairman of the bishops’ conference’s recently formed Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, and others, the bishops have stayed on message (and on point), insisting that the mandate is an infringement on religious freedom of grave concern to all. As one Catholic feminist blogger put it, “This is as much about birth control as the American Revolution was about tea.”

The bishops have also, and at last, taken aim at those within the Catholic family urging an acceptance of the administration’s bogus “accommodation.” Cardinal Dolan’s letter took an unprecedented shot at the Jesuit magazine, America; Bishop Lori went even farther in a letter to that journal, noting that its disdain for the bishops allegedly getting lost in “details” of policy ignores every one of the mandate’s infringements on the religious freedom of both institutions and individuals. To which it might be added that it takes a special kind of moral blindness (or partisan besottedness) to suggest, as America did, that requiring the Church’s institutions and employers of conscience to provide health insurance that includes abortifacients like Ella is a “detail.” Moreover, as Cardinal Dolan’s letter made clear, the administration has a very direct way of “working out the wrinkles” in such “details”: It’s Obama’s way, or no way.

The media echo chamber may continue to reverberate with Rush Limbaugh’s stupidities. But the real battle continues, and, as it moves towards the courts, it looks more and more like a battle that can and will be won. The issue is clear, and the bishops are all-in.

— George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.