In the Spotlight: Conflict highlights federal assault on religious freedom
The recent conflict between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration is minimally about contraception, modestly about abortion and overwhelmingly about religious freedom.
Framing this simply as an out-of-touch church opposing contraception is grossly mistaken. The new health care bill is trying to outflank established conscience protections by denying them to faith-based organizations that provide health insurance. Religious exemptions are only granted if they employ and serve primarily members of the same faith. A keen observer commented that even Jesus and his apostles would fail to qualify because their ministry extended to all.
It is ironic that the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis first moved here from Germany in the 1880s due to religious persecution and now, over a century later, risk persecution by the American government. More than religion, this concerns freedom of conscience. James Madison, author of the First Amendment that protects freedom of religion, once said: “A man’s conscience . . . is more sacred than his castle.” But conscience is not just opinion or subjective emotional response. Conscience should be formed in the truth of right and wrong.
The argument that a significant percentage of Catholics may disagree with selected church doctrine is largely irrelevant. Christian, indeed human, morality is not up for vote. Sadly, many of us Catholics were never properly taught the reasons for church teaching rooted in the inherent dignity of human life, made in God’s image. Catholics who disagree should wrestle with their conscience. One of us – Dr. Rashid – has done just this and stopped performing sterilizations.
For Catholics who support church teaching, this is an alarming wake-up call. Non-Catholics should recognize this as one more government infringement upon our liberty. The ramifications extend to all: Christians, Jews, Muslims and even atheists. Who might be next?
On a practical level, what would we do if Catholic hospitals and schools close rather than violate their morals? There are more than 570 Catholic hospitals in America treating 85 million patients. The “grandfathered” status is fragile and easily lost; who will provide the charitable health care if St. Francis Medical Center closes its doors?
There are more than 230 Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. More than 2 million students attend Catholic elementary and secondary schools. Will our local school districts be able to handle the tsunami of students that would result from diocesan school closure?
This law must be opposed. America deserves better.
Michael J. Gootee, Thomas M. Rashid and Stephen J. Smart are Peoria physicians.