Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Obamacare Bureaucracy vs. Religious Belief

I recently introduced our readers to a small victory for religious freedom over bureaucratic absolutism (Score One for the Christians). In that case, the Supreme Court told the National Labor Relations Board that a religious organization has sole power to determine its own rules regarding hiring and firing based on religious belief. But Leviathan never sleeps, and the Obama administration is at it again.

This time, the issue is much larger than that in the employment case. It is a bold attack on religious freedom, and the attack is grounded on the idea that the mission of a religious institution can be entirely separated from its non-religious functions. The bureaucracy this time is Health and Human Services, its commander is Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and the law from which the conflict stems is nothing less than Obamacare.

Simply put, the Catholic Church and some Orthodox Jewish organizations are religiously opposed to contraception. Obamacare requires that all employers, including those groups, must provide health insurance which includes coverage for contraception, certain abortifacients and sterilization at no additional charge to the employee. Contraceptive services are controversial among those groups, but it is the mandate to provide coverage for abortifacients and sterilization that has brought the issue to a rolling boil.

Obamacare does allow for some exemptions, but they are narrowly-written and are being interpreted by a bureaucracy that demands universal health care coverage whether you like it or not. In describing which employees the "religious employer" may exempt from contraception, abortifacient and sterilization coverage, Sebelius and her people rely on the preliminary regulations (which will undoubtedly remain unchanged in the final version) that require four concurrent things to be true:

1. The inculcation of religious values is its purpose.
2. It primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets.
3. It primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.
4. It is a non-profit organization under sections of the code that refer to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.

Paying careful obeisance to and obfuscation of the ruling in the NLRB employment case, HHS has issued a statement that specifically says: "The Departments seek to provide for a religious accommodation that respects the unique relationship between a house of worship and its employees in ministerial positions." By pretending to honor the unanimous decision in the NLRB case, HHS is actually carving out a rule that defeats religious belief outside the confines of the "ministry."

One student of the Department's position lays it out rather well. "The group insurance covering nuns in a Catholic religious order would probably not have to cover contraception. But insurance provided by the same order's elementary school probably would. The latter would also be true of a hospital established by the nuns."

The NLRB case was based on religious freedom ("the ministry"). This issue revolves more around religious worship and what information a religious organization must provide to non-members. So even in those cases where the Department may find the exemption applies, it will still require the organization to pass out information about "preventive" services which it does not provide under the exemption. Essentially, this means that the exempt religious organization must tell its employees where and how to obtain those services which are anathema to the organization and church teaching.

Sebelius's official statement explains how the new rule should be applied: "We intend to require employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive and sterilization services to provide notice to employees, which will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support." At its most basic it means that Father Flanagan will meet with his employee and tell her that the Church utterly opposes artificial contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization, but since the Church's medical insurance doesn't cover it, here's a list of all the places that will provide the services we find abhorrent and contrary to scripture.

So as it stands, Catholic employees at non-Catholic institutions must pay for insurance for preventive services as part of their insurance package, but cannot be charged anything additional for them. Likewise, Catholic and non-Catholic employees of a Catholic institution may be required to purchase contraception and sterilization insurance through their employers depending on how the Department classifies the religious employer. In the latter case, both the religious institution and its employees are bound by entirely secular rules determining the religious status of the employer and employee.

Church charities, hospitals, universities and other non-church activities are affected. Current organizations preparing to challenge the HHS ruling are Catholic Charities USA, Notre Dame University and the Catholic hospital network. Regardless of the outcome, or even a later softening of its position for political gain, this is another example of how the Obama administration and its leftist supporters are innately hostile to religion. It also demonstrates how a bureaucracy can hide its anti-religious agenda in gentle-sounding legalese.

26 comments:

T-Rav said...

I actually just heard about this yesterday afternoon listening to some guy on the radio. He was speculating whether it might cause more Catholics to turn against Obama, and being a Catholic, his conclusion was probably not. Contraception is one of those things where a lot of Catholics basically ignore what the hierarchy teaches; and a lot of them were so taken with Obama in '08 that they wouldn't let their priests talk about his radically pro-abortion policy. This is what happens when you let your church develop a social-justice wing.

BevfromNYC said...

T-Rav - Of course good Catholics have ignored the contraception rules since the beginning of time. Catholic girls have been getting abortions for the same amount of time. No one talked about it. The Church said "No" and what the Church don't know won't hurt 'em. Now the Church will have to take a proactive role contrary to their tenets by having to direct and counsel their employees to where to obtain contraception and pay for it.

The one thing that LawHawk left out is that the Churches only have a 1 year grace period until they must comply completely.

It is possible that if they are really pushed to the wall, church-run or established medical facilities will either close or force non-religious employees to leave.

Tennessee Jed said...

To state that the Obama administration is hostile to religion is, of course, settled science. I'm not exactly sure that is specifically what is behind this legal approach, at least not consciously. Forget for a moment that there real solution is 100% tax payer funded, govt. administered health care, and a woman's birth right as an American to have tax payer funded birth control provided. Hell, even forget for a minute that the people who are having tih provided by my tax dollars are exactly the people who shouldn't be producing children, but are probably the very same people who won't use the b.c.

Forgetting all that, I think these people are honest in their belief of rendering unto Caesar, so to speak. What this really shows me is how complex legal issues can be (e.g. the devil is in the details) and also why the government needs to be kept as small and non-intrusive as possible. The very idea that a government can tell me I have to pay for somebody elses birth control pills or condums or whatever is an anathema.

tryanmax said...

Bev, ...church-run or established medical facilities will...force non-religious employees to leave.

I don't see that as a possibility. Sounds like a discrimination suit just waiting to happen.

T-Rav said...

Bev, thanks a lot. That makes me feel all better. Or dead inside, I'm not sure which.

The Catholic bishops have been saying they'll really fight Obama on this issue. Eh...we'll see.

AndrewPrice said...

This is how government works. When it runs into something that stands in its way, it praises it and then tries runs it over.



P.S. Don't forget, it's Star Trek Tuesday at the film site! We're discussing Wrath of Khan today.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: My experience has been that the Catholics I know are pretty loose about the issue of contraception, but are starting to see that it's one thing for them to make that choice and quite another for the government to make that choice for them in direct defiance of church doctrine. The abortifacient issue comes closer to government requiring the church to pay for "abortion insurance," and that seems to have stirred up Catholics I know who were much less exercised about traditional birth control.

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: The one year grace period gives the Obama administration time to diddle with the law and make exceptions until after the 2012 elections. It's basically a smokescreen. The number of Catholics who use contraception has always been rather high, despite church teachings. But abortion has always been treated differently.

I truly don't know what the church will do if this requirement continues to be rammed down its throat. I know that in a similar situation, rather than provide gay partnership health insurance as required by the City of San Francisco, the Salvation Army simply shut down all affected operations in the city. I'm not sure the Catholic church will do the same with its many hospitals, but it might.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: If the church were allowed to provide medical insurance, but require that contraceptive services be provided as a rider to be be paid for entirely by the employee, the issue might not be so contentious. The Catholic church isn't stupid, and it knows many of its employees are going to seek contraception anyway. The church just doesn't want to be required to provide it and pay for it.

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: And that's something the administration is probably counting on. They've created a legal/religious morass with this requirement, and are accomplishing the task of putting another roadblock in the way of the practice of religion by using the relatively uncontroversial red herring of insurance coverage of birth control. Since the majority of Americans are not Catholic, let alone rigidly-doctrinaire Catholic, the administration is playing another cynical numbers game.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: I'm guessing that this time the Bishops really will fight. This is the death of religious freedom in small doses.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: So true.

rlaWTX said...

encroachment by inches and hidden by legalese and "equality"...

LawHawkRFD said...

rlaWTX: Indeed. A little religious freedom lost here, a little freedom of worship lost there, a little forced secularism another place, and soon the First Amendment guarantees disappear entirely. As Robert Heinlein said: " “There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.”

BevfromNYC said...

T-Rav and LawHawk - Our soon to be new Cardinal Dolan in NY is leading the fight for Catholics as he is the head of the "Organization That Fights For Catholic Stuff" group. (I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I am just too lazy to look up the real name of the organization). Once he gets his red cap in 12 days, he is making this his first priority. Though he looks kindly, I don't think he will back down at all.

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: There is an expression that came out of the late 80s and early 90s that needs to be revived now. "Muscular Christianity." I hope Cardinal Dolan is aware of it and intends to practice it. The good pastor leads and tends to his sheep, he doesn't become one of them.

T-Rav said...

Bev, the Catholic leadership has a historical tendency to put up a fight on the things that really matter. Let's hope Dolan and the rest come through this time as well.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav and Bev: Meanwhile, back in the fever swamp of DC, Sen. Marco Rubio is introducing legislation that would give a blanket exemption to religious and faith-based organizations. Another reason I really like Rubio.

A member of the Catholic League just appeared on Fox and laid the issue out very well. He was perfectly frank about the way most Catholics view contraception (liberal vs. conservative view). But he is seeing a united response from his fellow Catholics, not because of contraception itself, but the arrogance of the government interfering in their church's affair. As he said, he's getting letters from all over the country from his fellow Catholics, Protestants and Jews supporting the church's opposition to the mandate.

tryanmax said...

LawHawk, I think that lesson has been well learned by evangelicals in this country. Certain evangelicals have very pointed opinions about which direction Catholics may be going when they shuffle off this mortal coil, but at the end of the day, they know that the wind which blows against the Catholic Church blows against them as well.

If anything, I think the government and media's focus on the Catholic Church reveals their myopia on the subject of Christianity. That may well turn out to be a very good thing.

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: The administration and its suckups in the MSM tend to go after the Catholic Church first simply because it's the biggest single target. Protestants and Jews don't have single central authority, so attacks on them are too scattershot to suit the left. But I think you're right. Evangelicals particularly are starting to see that when the government is done eviscerating religious freedom for Catholics, they're next. Particularly in light of the strong Evangelical movement supporting Israel.

My own fellow Lutherans, have been far too namby-pamby about government intrusion, but I can still take pride in the fact that it was a Lutheran church that won the NLRB case over who gets to decide what "ministry" means.

T-Rav said...

I guess this is proof that I shouldn't be too pessimistic. But it's hard. :-/

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: I'm a big fan of cautious optimism.

StanH said...

There are so many things about Barry, and Barrycare that will destroy this country. I f we don’t send this clown packing in November, I fear for our great Republic.

That being said there are six Catholics on the Supreme Court, this in my mind doesn’t bode well for Barry. I hope they deliver justice based on law, “but!”

LawHawkRFD said...

Stan: Truer words were never spoken. I truly fear for the survival of the Republic if Obama gets another term. If he faces an even more hostile Congress than he has now, it will push him over the edge into rule by fiat. He won't win that battle, but right now we don't need a constitutional crisis.

Fortunately, the Catholics on the Supreme Court are all traditional "original intent, original words, natural law" types. They might rule against their own church if they thought the Constitution required it, but I don't think they will ever need to reach that point. Calling religious oppression "health care" is like calling a skunk a rose. It won't wash with the Supreme Court. I'm guessing that if it ever gets to the high court, they will come up with guidelines protecting religious belief except for the most unrelated and tangential functions of the secular parts of the church's operations. Catholic hospitals are, well, Catholic. That's neither secular nor tangential.

Patti said...

law: it's just another middle finger pointed in our direction from barry and crew.

this is a very personal choice for catholics, and law you're right. it's one thing to make the decision on your own, an entirely different matter to have the government make it for you.

LawHawkRFD said...

Patti: That's the way I see it. If they can interfere in Catholic beliefs, they can interfere in mine. My heart is with the Catholics, and my head is with my own self-interest.

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