December 4, 2015


Mandate cases reach U.S. Supreme Court

An editorial we published two weeks ago was about things for which we Catholics should be grateful. We ended, though, with the observation that there’s a movement in our secular society to put obstacles before Catholic institutions to force them to do things that are against our religion. Therefore, we must be diligent to retain our freedom of religion.

As we reported in our Nov. 13 issue, the U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will hear important cases that could well determine, one way or the other, whether some services now provided by the Church will be allowed to continue. In March, it will hear seven cases challenging the mandate that religious organizations must provide contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs as part of their health care plans. The Court’s decisions probably will be announced next June.

Among the cases the Court will hear are those involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Priests for Life, and several Protestant colleges and universities.

These cases have been going on for five years, ever since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services posted its rules for the Affordable Care Act. In June of 2014, the Court ruled that “closely held” companies whose owners have religiously based objections, like Hobby Lobby stores, did not have to provide the coverage.

Now the Court will decide what to do about religious employers. Besides the seven cases that will be heard, about 100 religious organizations object to the mandate, including service organizations that are under the umbrella of Catholic Charities. Parishes and other houses of worship are exempt, but not Catholic colleges and universities, hospitals, and other entities affiliated with the Church.

One would think that this would be an easy victory for religious rights because religious institutions should not be forced to participate in what they consider immoral. However, as these cases have made their way to the Supreme Court, all the appellate courts except one have ruled against the religious groups.

We Catholics, unfortunately, are becoming accustomed to being forced to accept our society as it has become highly secular. We have seen the breakdown of traditional marriage as cohabitation and same-sex unions have become more acceptable. There is a concerted effort to undermine religion, and the so-called contraception mandate has been part of that effort.

That’s why the cases to be heard next year are so important. A victory for the religious institutions would mean that they can continue to function as they have been. A victory for the government, though, might mean that some services provided by the Church will have to cease. At the minimum, the Church will have to figure out how to deal with morally objectionable laws.

The U.S. bishops, under the leadership of Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, have been defending religious liberty ever since the mandate was announced. Archbishop Lori, a native of New Albany, said that we must pray that the basic freedom in our Constitution that guarantees “that no one in this country has to violate their religious convictions” will prevail.

That’s exactly what all Catholics should want. Unfortunately, it seems that many of us have become indifferent to issues such as this. We have assimilated into the mainstream to such an extent that we are no different from our secular peers.

This is evident on the Supreme Court. Six of the nine justices are Catholics, so you would think that they would be guided by the same understanding of the Constitution that promotes the common good and is in harmony with the Catholic faith. That, though, has not been the case, and we don’t expect all six Catholics to vote in favor of the religious institutions in this present case.

It’s even less the case in the U.S. Congress where a sizeable majority of Catholic Democrats have a pro-choice voting record.

Little Sisters of the Poor’s mother provincial, Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, has shown just what will be at stake when the Court hears the cases. She said, “For over 175 years, we have served the neediest in society with love and dignity. All we ask is to be able to continue our religious vocation free from government intrusion.”

—John F. Fink

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