The Battle for the American Conscience
June 13, 2012
More than 80 plaintiffs in 23 different lawsuits are now challenging the HHS mandate that will require many religious institutions to provide health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and other contraceptive services. At the heart of these lawsuits is whether the government’s purported interest in marginally increasing access to contraceptive services trumps the basic right to religious liberty that both individuals and institutions have traditionally enjoyed.
The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The institutions challenging the HHS mandate argue that it violates their right to free exercise because the mandate forces them to provide coverage for contraceptive services that conflict with their religious beliefs. HHS is allowing exemptions from the mandate for institutions that have as their primary purpose the inculcation of religious values and that mainly employ and serve people sharing the same religious beliefs as the institution. Essentially churches would appear to be the only religious institutions that meet HHS’s narrow definition of a “religion employer.” As Rev. Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA, has quipped, it is doubtful that the ministry of Jesus Christ would have qualified for HHS’s narrow definition of exempted religious services.
Thus, other religious institutions, including religious schools, hospitals, and numerous social service ministries, will be faced with the choice of either hiring and serving only individuals of the same faith or acceding to the Obama Administration’s pressure and covering contraceptive services. The New York Times would have us believe that the “real threat” stems from “the effort to impose one church’s doctrine on everyone.” But the debate is not about whether women should be able to have access to contraception or have abortions, as the left has tried to paint it. Rather it is about government encroachment into the American conscience, and as James Madison wrote in his Essay on Property, “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.” the rest