Churches Stand Together
Mobile, Ala., forum shows: Opposition to the HHS mandate is Catholic, and catholic.


Quin Hillyer

“This mandate separates churches from their ministries,” the archbishop said to the Federalist Society. HHS now defines religious practice so narrowly, he explained, that it excludes most ministries providing services or employment to those outside their denominational bounds. The Little Sisters of the Poor, he noted, along with Catholic social services, Catholic schools, and a host of other programs and institutions, would not be exempt from the HHS mandate.

“Under these rules, it is very possible that Jesus would not qualify as religious. I seem to remember something about him ministering to a Samaritan woman.” (And, we recall, he cured lepers of any faith.)

Shields elaborated recently on the further ramifications of restricting the definition of “religious institution”:

What happens is, when the religious organizations are intimidated or forced out — and this HHS mandate is only one instance of religious communities getting hurt; think of the Catholic adoption agencies in Boston – then the only thing left standing is the administrative state. . . . While we are acting from motives of faith, which is appropriate in the public square, the issue is just as much about our rights as Americans: De Tocqueville made that point about the genius of America. The democracy of our country can only work if you have a really strong civic life. I see the movement to curtail some of the engagement in the public arena of faith communities as a very, very bad thing for the democracy.

It was with that conviction that Shields approached his cross-denominational friend Foley, who already had appeared on local news and written several columns opposing the mandate, and McCrummen and Tennenbaum. “We have to reach out to a wider community,” Shields said.

Foley has been working for months to build a wide coalition against the mandate:

We have been meeting for some time to explore ways we can be involved in bringing our energies and our resources to bear on the preservation of religious liberty, which we believe is being threatened. We’re not trying to influence the government as [though we are the] church per se, but citizens of faith of every persuasion have always been the reinforcers of religious liberty. By no means is [this effort] limited to clergy. As the president of an Evangelical and Baptist organization, I am involved because it is a real issue. I am involved because there must be strength in the churches coming together on these issues, not standing apart. I have not sacrificed my theological convictions. We are aware there are theological differences between us, but we are much more aware now that there are convictions bringing us together.

“To quote our old friend from the ’60s, Bob Dylan,” he concluded with a laugh, these “‘times they are a-changing’ — but we have to start swimming together in order to once again make our influence as citizens of faith known and to state our case.”

When I reached Agnes Tennenbaum on Friday, she was feeling a bit under the weather but said she was looking forward to Tuesday night’s forum. Then, rousing herself and expressing great enthusiasm, she said her theme for the evening would be simple: “Freedom of religion is why people came to this country. Our founders came here looking for freedom of religion. So did I.”

That’s why this battle is not and should not be merely Catholic, but catholic, in the sense of universal. On the Gulf Coast, it quite clearly is.

— Quin Hillyer is a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom and a senior editor for The American Spectator.