President Barack Obama’s decision to force religious organizations to violate their faith in order to continue serving their employees, students, and fellow citizens marks a break with the nation’s founding principles of religious freedom and an unwise elevation of politics over pragmatism.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic who favors unlimited access to abortion, announced recently the Obama administration will allow no exemptions for faith-based organizations from a mandate that all institutions must pay for all FDA-approved forms of contraception in their health insurance plans.
This means hospitals, universities, charities, nonprofits, and every religious institution short of a church itself will have to fund abortifacients, sterilization, and contraceptives, with no out-of-pocket payments allowed, for employees or students on their insurance plans.
For Catholic hospitals and other providers supported primarily through philanthropy, which serve the poorest communities where there is often little financial incentive to set up shop, this is a crushing blow. If they want to continue ministering to their neighbors, following the Golden Rule as their faith demands, they will have to set their deeply held theological beliefs aside in favor of the cultural views of Washington elites.
Religious institutions had worked for months to persuade the Obama administration to free them from this requirement. But instead of offering a broad exemption, Obama and Sebelius chose to press the matter, at the behest of their partisan political supporters. When asked about the matter a few months ago, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) scoffed at the concerns, saying flippantly that Catholic providers “have this conscience thing” that they really need to overcome. Heaven forbid anyone would have a conscience these days.
The practical effect of this ruling, moreover, is the exact opposite of what Obama, Pelosi, and Sebelius say they want. Instead of bowing to the whims of Washington, the likeliest response from these institutions will be to stop offering employee insurance.
Why should any organization compromise its members’ beliefs, paying for services that are anathema to their faith, when these institutions can simply pay a fine for refusing to abide by the employer mandate in Obamacare?
The mandate is currently slated to be an annual tax penalty of $2,000 for every full-time employee (or equivalent) beyond the first 30 workers. For some organizations, this will be a high price to pay. But they may find it worth it to retain their right to exercise their religious beliefs. And given the rising premium costs under Obama’s law–according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, premiums for a family policy exceeded $15,000 a year in 2011, increasing an average of $1,300 from 2010–this might actually make fiscal sense, too.
What the Obama administration may ultimately discover is that the effort to bring religious institutions to heel will just push more people into the taxpayer-subsidized coverage on Medicaid or Obamacare’s exchanges–further increasing the costs of the law for everyone. The astounding thicket of mandates and near-prohibition of market competition could suggest to the cynical mind Obama’s true goal is to force everyone into the system former Medicare and Medicaid head Donald Berwick declared he “loved”: single-payer government-run health care.
One final point: The right to religious liberty is as essential to the nation we love as any other right. It is not just enshrined in our founding documents but was fundamental to this land long before it became a nation. Nearly four centuries ago, a small band of pilgrims landed on the shores of what came to be known as New England, in search of a land where they might worship in peace. With principles grounded in family and faith, these individuals honored honest work, neighborhood, and thrift, forming the moral fiber of a new nation.
Some 150 years later their descendants stood shoulder to shoulder in defiance of a distant, tyrannical regime, paying dearly to establish that our rights come from our Creator, not from government, and that no government can take them away.
Obama, Pelosi, Sebelius and their allies clearly think otherwise. But it’s possible they have crossed a line here that is without national precedent. And some lines, once crossed, set in motion changes in the course of human events. In the end, free people either allow their nations to slide into full acceptance of the denial of human liberty, or gather in uprisings against tyranny around such dangerous ideas as “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Benjamin Domenech ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News.