For those of us whose “faith” involves attendance at the “church of our choice” for an hour or so on the odd Sunday, or just perhaps once or twice a year on the “dress-up days” of Christmas and Easter-if it isn’t too cold or wet-the time has come as the Walrus might say to “fish or cut bait” here in these Untied States; though I freely admit to having some sympathy with the group of folks I just described. There is something to be said for another hour under the covers on a cold day, a walk in the park on a fine Spring morning, or an early start on the tail-gate festivities down at the coliseum, rather than enduring screeching choirs and the Rev. F. E. P. Swoggle’s interminable mumblings about church funding week after painful week; not to mention the endless rules about being kind and doing good…and humility. Above all, humility.
In that part of the world where Alice and her flippered friend would not at all feel strange the Supreme Court recently sent the Executive Branch packing. Unanimously it ruled that the government wasn’t just wrong it was damned wrong when it argued that there was no religious or ministerial exception to discrimination laws. The government had said, wrongly in this case according to the Supremes, that the First Amendment’s “Free Exercise” clause (Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise of religion.) does not apply . (See pages 15 and following for the crux of their argument.) And they slammed ’em to the mat.
It seemed to anyone with enough sense in these matters that they were right to do so. But, some folks wonder if they’ve been had. They imagine a certain corner office occupant on the phone to another corner officer:
“Yo, Kathy? It’s me. They went for it. And folks think Eric and his guys can’t even put on their own socks. I gotta admit, I like this game.”
“So, do I do it?”
“Yeah, this’ll give them a few sleepless nights, and put them where we want them, on the edge. Come on over tonight. We’ll have a couple of highballs and watch some Survivor re-runs. I like watching people get voted off the island. Speaking of islands, Michelle wants to ask you what you think about a vacation in New Zealand. The girls want to go skiing next June. Hey, you like oysters?”
“Ooh, I love oysters!”
“Good, we’ll have some oysters, too. I’ll let the kitchen know. See you around 8.”
By now you already know what I’m talking about. You should also know that the Other Shoe was dropped a couple of days ago. Kathy and the boys and girls down at HHS, who are building the foundation for the Brave New World we’ve been hoping for since the last Presidential election, announced that there really isn’t any such thing as a “conscience clause” for religious organizations if those organizations employ people who work for them (DUH!). The CC was supposed to let employers opt out of providing the folks who worked for them with medical insurance which would have to cover such newly discovered medically necessary treatments as contraception and abortifacient drugs the use of which are now, I hesitate to say, God given rights. (Well, if they aren’t God given, at least they have been discovered to be hiding in the shadow of some other right we gave ourselves while God was busy elsewhere.)
But that’s not going to happen, now. There’s no such thing as a conscience when it comes to the right not to get pregnant, or stay that way, if you don’t particularly want to. Considering that Kathy (Sebellius) was a big fan of some abortion doc in Kansas who was a world class slicer and dicer, before someone shot him in a church, the odds were never in favor of it happening anyway.
A lawyer I know wondered aloud whether or not, as I hinted above, the “defeat” in the Supreme Court wasn’t just a bit of strategy; a clever maneuver to establish a position. I don’t understand those things too well on the best of days, but he said enough to make me wonder myself if he might be right. Anyway, you have got to be dead from the neck up if you think this was really as clear a “win” as some folks think it was; that a 9-0 decision ended the fight right there.
The Catholic Bishops of course issued a statement reacting to the HHS decision:
WASHINGTON—The Catholic bishops of the United States called “literally unconscionable” a decision by the Obama Administration to continue to demand that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans. Today’s announcement means that this mandate and its very narrow exemption will not change at all; instead there will only be a delay in enforcement against some employers.
“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The cardinal-designate continued, “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty.”
The HHS rule requires that sterilization and contraception – including controversial abortifacients – be included among “preventive services” coverage in almost every healthcare plan available to Americans. “The government should not force Americans to act as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented at all costs,” added Cardinal-designate Dolan.
At issue, the U.S. bishops and other religious leaders insist, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for the conscience of Catholics and all other Americans.
“This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights,” said Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairperson of the board at Franciscan Alliance, Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals. “I have hundreds of employees who will be upset and confused by this edict. I cannot understand it at all.”
Daughter of Charity Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, voiced disappointment with the decision. Catholic hospitals serve one out of six people who seek hospital care annually.
“This was a missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection,” Sister Keehan said.
Cardinal-designate Dolan urged that the HHS mandate be overturned.
“The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand,” he said. “The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation. We will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision.”
They are going to do what they can to make it go away. Fat chance! No one, I am sure, who is currently involved in any decision making capacity in the Obama administration really gives a damn what the Catholic Bishops individually or as a body say, think or do about this. As a matter of fact, I think that the decision is aimed directly at the Catholic Church in this country, and entirely at the Catholic Church. That is simply because the Catholic Church is the largest operator of private hospitals and clinics in the country, and the primary opposition to the government’s policies regarding contraception, abortion and the whole bloody (literally) and death oriented issue of what is popularly known as women’s reproductive health.
You know what else I think? I think we brought this on ourselves. Let me tell you why I think this. Someone I know used to volunteer at a Catholic grade school in a small town in Ohio. After my friend had been there for a while she found herself in the library looking for a book about a particular saint. These books, she was told were not in the library. Rather they were in the basement, in a locked room. My friend was told access was thus restricted because the school was required by the rules of the U.S. Department of Education grant it received for hot lunches to do so. It had something to do with the “separation of church and state” said the person informing my friend why there were no Catholic books in the library of a Catholic school.
Now, I haven’t even the slightest knowledge of how many other such bizarre situations exist in so called Catholic institutions, schools, convalescent homes, hospitals, colleges and universities which receive aid in whatever form from any kind of government agency, but I’ll bet a dollar there are plenty of them. We have “taken the soup”! And, now, we are faced with the consequence.
How do we overcome? What is the answer to this persecution?
Keeping in mind the words of the last verse in today’s reading from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians: “The world in its present form is passing away,” I think I have an answer. I will let you know what I think should be our response to the evil growing ever stronger in the next part of this little discursion in a day or so.