Catholic Bishops -- Joined by an Ecumenical Coalition -- Remain Advocates of Religious Freedom, as Obama Administration Has Other Priorities

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

“[O]ur study has not discovered any new change that eliminates the need to continue defending our rights in Congress and the courts”; that’s the last line of a statement released today by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

You’ll recall that on Friday (see recent analysis by Yuval LevinJim Capretta, and me) the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services finally got around to issuing a final rule on its coercive abortion-drug, contraception, female-sterilization mandate that has left faith-based organizations, including schools and charities, pleading for their right to religious freedom, period. Openly in court the Department of Justice has been arguing that religious believers who own for-profit business, including Christian book publishers, have no claims to religious freedom; a court just told Hobby Lobby that it is exempt from punitive fines while its case against HHS is being litigated.

This is an alarming state of affairs as we celebrate the Fourth of July. We seem to be growing increasingly comfortable with curtailing freedom if the restrictions serve the values of the sexual revolution, now considered mandated goods by the federal government, essential to women’s freedom. (Hail Satan? We now pay more attention to sneakers than to children.)

Cardinal Dolan restates the three major areas of concern for the bishops since the administration pretended to fix the mandate’s problems with its February 2012 “accommodation” (the campaign for which involved outright lying, at times, as administration officials — including Joe Biden during the vice-presidential debate — insisted that the problem was solved, even with court cases pending):

The problems include: (1) the narrow definition of “religious employers” that are exempted, (2) the “accommodation” of religious ministries excluded from that definition, and (3) the treatment of businesses run by people who seek to operate their companies according to their religious principles.

Today’s statement explains:

 A first concern with the definition of “religious employer,” and the third concern with faithful business owners and other individuals, still have not been addressed at all.  The second area of concern — the “accommodation” for religious charities, schools, hospitals, and other ministries of service — appears mostly the same, except for three relatively small changes that will require more time and analysis to evaluate.

Dolan goes on to explain that “We are concerned as pastors with the freedom of the Church as a whole — not just for the full range of its institutional forms, but also for the faithful in their daily lives — to carry out the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.”

As he’s said before, simply carving out an exception for schools and hospitals, or for certain evangelicals with abortion and contraception “hang-ups” (my word, based on NRO comments) will never suffice. Because once the government goes this far in curbing religious-liberty rights in the name of radical feminism and secularism, more impositions will come. This is why such a diverse coalition joined Archbishop William E. Lori yesterday in opposing this mandate.

You don’t have to be Catholic to see that Dolan, Lori, and their supporters are being good stewards and calling us to be, too. What the heck is the point of Independence Day if not to recommit ourselves to taking our rights seriously? This is our call as a people blessed with a tradition that has always sought to ensure a flourishing civil society in which our inherent dignity and liberty are protected. If our hold on this is slipping, it’s on our watch. Consider that over a burger or beer on July 4.

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