By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 2/11/12 in The Madera Tribune
One morning after Mass, a little boy supposedly announced, “Mom, I want to be a priest when I grow up!”
“That’s fine with me,” she replied, “but why?”
“Well,” he said, “I have to go to church on Sundays anyway, and I’d rather stand up and talk than sit down and listen!”
I suspect President Barack Obama feels the same way about the recent wave of Catholic sermons across the U.S. against a policy of his. His administration decided to go ahead with requiring employers to cover sterilization, contraception, and devices and drugs such as Plan B and Ulipristal (“Ella”) that — similar to RU-486 -- can be used to induce abortion.
What has sparked public protest from 169 U.S. Catholic bishops, the 53 bishops of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in North America, the National Association of Evangelicals, 154 Democrat and GOP congressmen, and more is the lack of a broad exemption for religious organizations.
The religious exemption is so narrow only places of worship would be included. Religious schools, universities, hospitals, charities, and more would have to obey it after a one-year delay. The rule would then override state laws, which are generally far less severe if they exist.
In the past, U.S. bishops have warned they’d shut down Catholic hospitals rather than violate their conscience rights and pay for things they consider immoral. The impact would be big.
There are more than 600 Catholic health care institutions in the U.S. — 12 percent of all that exist (PJ Kennedy & Sons, 2004). One in six U.S. residents are treated in one each year, according to the Catholic Health Association of the United States.
A fictional joke is told of a man who required surgery after a heart attack, and awoke to find himself in a Catholic hospital. He complained that he had no health insurance or savings to pay, so a nurse asked, “Do you have a relative who could help?”
“I only have a spinster sister,” he said. “She’s a nun.”
The nurse frowned and scolded, “Nuns are not spinsters! They’re married to God.”
He replied, “Good! Send the bill to my brother-in-law.”
Religious hospitals have to do just that often enough, but that is part of why they exist — to serve. It is unfair for those they and other religious groups serve to be caught in this crossfire between faith and politics.
In their work to reduce poverty, members of Catholic Charities USA — a charitable bureau of the U.S. bishops — provide services for more than 10 million people each year regardless of religious background. Many Catholic Charities affiliates in two states and Washington D.C. are already closing their branches in response to state legislation. Now imagine the entire system disbanded.
Perhaps the bishops are raising the stakes so high because what is at risk — religious liberty -- is that important.
As St. Joachim Church associate pastor Rev. George Pallyathara, OSJ, preached Sunday, “People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens.” Most U.S. Catholics and Evangelicals agree. A Rasmussen Reports survey Wednesday found 65 percent of Catholic and 62 percent of Evangelical voters oppose the new health insurance rule.
Despite many voices opposing it, Catholic military chaplains were silent, and not by choice. Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services e-mailed a pastoral letter about the issue for the chaplains to read from the pulpit Sunday in all military chapels, but the U.S. Army said no. Do not.
Elsewhere, the Supreme Court unanimously decided in January that ministers (whether pastors, rabbis, or imams) cannot sue their churches for employment discrimination. This was no surprise. The U.S. has long recognized a First Amendment “ministerial exception” to discrimination laws, which allows religions to only appoint members of their faith as leaders, permits Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and some Protestant denominations to only ordain men, celibacy requirements, etc.
Yet it was the Obama administration that long pressed the case against Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church. The administration argued religious groups had no more right to pick their leaders than a social club, and that an employee could not be a minister if she had secular duties also. As Chief Justice John Roberts remarked, even the pope would fail that test. Obama’s own appointee, Justice Elena Kagan, called the stance “amazing” in a bad way, and the court called it “extreme.”
Sadly that’s just a taste of it all. Obama has opened a wide battlefront between government activism and religious liberty, and some resist and pray.