Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Miami archbishop laments pressures against religious liberty

Archbishop Thomas Wenski

Miami, Fla., Apr 24, 2012 / 12:08 am (CNA) — Efforts to restrict religious liberty break with American traditions and seek to “delegitimize” the Catholic Church’s participation in public debate, said Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami.

“America's ‘first freedom,’ the freedom of religion, is under great stress if not under outright assault – and not just for Catholics,” Archbishop Wenski wrote in the Miami Herald April 23.

He said the Health and Human Services mandate requiring insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause abortion represents “an unprecedented intrusion by the federal government.”

The mandate not only forces religious institutions to “facilitate and fund” products and procedures “contrary to their own moral teaching,” he noted, but also defines which institutions are religious enough to meet an exemption.

Archbishop Wenski said the fundamental issue in the mandate debate is “whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.”

“The Church cannot not oppose this unjust (and we believe unconstitutional) mandate,” he said.

The archbishop said the Catholic bishops will seek remedies from both Congress and the courts “rather than facing the shuttering of our schools, universities and hospitals by the federal government.”
Despite the present difficulties, he praised U.S. constitutional guarantees for religious freedom.

“America's first freedom, the freedom of religion, has honored America's diversity by permitting the inclusion of all its citizens in contributing to the common good of all,” he said.

“Separation of church and state does not require the exclusion of religion from society. To exclude people of faith from making their contributions and their proposals in the public square would impoverish us all.”

He suggested the new restrictions are evidence of a “reductive secularism” that has more in common with the French Revolution than with American traditions.

Archbishop Wenski warned of various other threats to religious liberty, including a “draconian” anti-immigrant law in Alabama that he said “criminalizes” Bible classes for undocumented immigrants; the exclusion of Catholic Charities from foster care and adoption services in several states; the State Department’s apparent revision of religious liberty to mean “merely freedom to worship”; and a recent court decision that barred conscience accommodations for federal contractors opposed to abortion.

Such efforts “seek to delegitimize the Church's participation in public debate about issues that will determine the future of American society,” he charged.

The archbishop said the Catholic Church does not seek privileges for herself but seeks the freedom to advocate her views in the public square and “to witness to them coherently so as to contribute to human flourishing in society.”

He noted that in November Florida voters can vote to approve the Florida ballot initiative Amendment 8 to protect faith-based agencies and organizations from state-level laws and regulations that affect religious freedom.

1 comment:

  1. The health law does not force employers to provide coverage for contraception, as Wenski suggests. The Bishops' arguments on this have gone from wrong to ridiculous.

    First, the Constitution. Confronted by questions about the government requiring or prohibiting something that conflicts with someone’s faith, the courts have generally ruled that under the Constitution the government cannot enact laws specifically aimed at a particular religion (which would be regarded a constraint on religious liberty contrary to the First Amendment), but can enact laws generally applicable to everyone or at least broad classes of people (e.g., laws concerning pollution, contracts, torts, crimes, discrimination, employment, etc.) and can require everyone, including those who may object on religious grounds, to abide by them.

    When the legislature anticipates that application of such laws may put some individuals in moral binds, the legislature may, as a matter of grace (not constitutional compulsion), provide exemptions for conscientious objectors.

    The real question here then is not so much whether the First Amendment precludes the government from enacting and enforcing the generally applicable laws regarding availability of health insurance (it does not), but rather whether there is any need to exempt some employers in order to avoid forcing them to act contrary to their consciences.

    Second, no need for an exemption. While some may well oppose the policy of promoting the availability of medical services they find objectionable, the law does not put employers in the moral bind some suppose. Many initially worked themselves into a lather with the false idea that the law forced employers to provide their employees with health care plans offering services the employers considered immoral. The fact is that employers have the option of not providing any such plans and instead paying assessments. Unless one supposes that the employers’ religion forbids payments of money to the government (all of us should enjoy such a religion), then the law’s requirement to pay assessments does not compel those employers to act contrary to their beliefs. Problem solved.

    Some nonetheless continued complaining that by paying assessments to the government they would indirectly be paying for the very things they opposed, seemingly missing that that is not a moral dilemma justifying an exemption to avoid being forced to act contrary to one’s beliefs, but rather is a gripe common to many taxpayers–who don’t much like paying taxes and who object to this or that action the government may take with the benefit of “their” tax dollars. Should each of us be exempted from paying our taxes so we aren’t thereby “forced” to pay for making war, providing health care, teaching evolution, or whatever else each of us may consider wrong or even immoral? If each of us could opt out of this or that law or tax with the excuse that our religion requires or allows it, the government and the rule of law could hardly operate.

    In any event, those complaining made enough of a stink that the government relented and announced that religious employers would be free to provide health plans with provisions to their liking (yay!) and not be required to pay the assessments otherwise required (yay!). Problem solved–again, even more.

    Nonetheless, some continue to complain, fretting that somehow the services they dislike will get paid for and somehow they will be complicit in that. They argue that if insurers (or, by the same logic, anyone, e.g., employees) pay for such services, those costs will somehow, someday be passed on to the employers in the form of demands for higher insurance premiums or higher wages. They evidently believe that when they spend a dollar and it thus becomes the property of others, they nonetheless should have some say in how others later spend that dollar. One can only wonder how it would work if all of us could tag “our” dollars this way and control their subsequent use.