HHS Mandate: Bishops Say Obama’s Proposed Compromise “Falls Short.”

I held back on extensive comments on President Obama’s recent “compromise” to the HHS Mandate.

My personal feeling when it was announced was that the compromise would, in the words of today’s announcement from Cardinal Dolan, “fall short.”

My reasons were political, based primarily on my understanding of how politicians behave when they are forced to give the appearance of doing something that they really don’t want to do. I expected smoke and mirrors, and in at least one very serious way, that is exactly what the President gave us.

He left private employers out of his “compromise,” and by doing so essentially stopped the First Amendment at the church door. There is, if you’ve been thinking about the militant secularism in our world, nothing new in this position.

Evangelical atheists and militant secularists (who often but not always overlap) have said repeatedly that their goal is for Christians in particular and religious people in general to “keep their faith at home.” They allow (for now) that we can worship inside the confines of our churches without government interference, and that we can believe within the privacy of our homes (again, for now) as we choose.

But they declaim loudly and vociferously that we should not, must not, may not carry our faith further than that. They do not want us to pray in public, speak about faith in debate or follow our faith when we go to work or interact with other people. They carry this so far in other countries that they have attempted to cost people their employment for wearing a cross around their neck. This happened in Britain and was recently overturned by a court order.

It is entirely consistent for President Obama to attempt to divide Christians and other religious objectors to his HHS Mandate by “giving in” to allow Church related institutions out of the trap, but to turn around and leave private enterprises such as Hobby Lobby in a position of either compromising on core beliefs or facing massive government penalties.

The question then is, does the First Amendment stop at the church door, or does it apply to all Americans as we go about our daily lives, including those of us who do not wear clerical collars?

This is a massively important debate, striking to the heart of what it means to be a free people. Does the Bill of Rights apply to people, or is it only for institutions?

I don’t know of course, but I believe that President Obama expected the Catholic Church to accept his compromise and abandon the Hobby Lobbies out there. I am happy to report that, if that’s what he expected, he was wrong.

Today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops came down on the side of individual liberty and freedom of conscience. They reiterated their opposition to the HHS Mandate and proclaimed their support for all people of faith in their right to practice their faith without government bullying.

I am, once again, proud of the bishops. I am determined to stand with them and with my brothers and sisters in Christ of every denomination in this fight.

Cardinal Dolan’s entire statement is below. You can find more information at the USCCB website.

Statement of Cardinal Timothy Dolan Responding to Feb. 1 Proposal from HHS

For almost a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have worked hard to support the right of every person to affordable, accessible, comprehensive, life-affirming healthcare.As we continue to do so, our changeless values remain the same.We promote the protection of the dignity of all human life and the innate rights that flow from it, including the right to life from conception to natural death; care for the poorest among us and the undocumented; the right of the Church to define itself, its ministries, and its ministers; and freedom of conscience.

Last Friday, the Administration issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the HHS mandate that requires coverage for sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortions.The Administration indicates that it has heard some previously expressed concerns and that it is open to dialogue.With release of the NPRM, the Administration seeks to offer a response to serious matters which have been raised throughout the past year.We look forward to engaging with the Administration, and all branches and levels of government, to continue to address serious issues that remain. Our efforts will require additional, careful study.Only in this way can we best assure that healthcare for every woman, man and child is achieved without harm to our first, most cherished freedom.

In evaluating Friday’s action regarding the HHS mandate, our reference remains the statement of our Administrative Committee made last March, United for Religious Freedom, and affirmed by the entire body of bishops in June 2012.

In that statement, we first expressed concern over the mandate’s “exceedingly narrow” four-part definition of “religious employer,” one that exempted our houses of worship, but left “our great ministries of service to our neighbors, namely, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the students in our schools and universities, and others in need” subject to the mandate.This created “a ‘second class’ of citizenship within our religious community,” “weakening [federal law's] healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity.”And the exemption effectuated this distinction by requiring “among other things, [that employers] must hire and serve primarily those of their own faith.”

On Friday, the Administration proposed to drop the first three parts of the four-part test.This might address the last of the concerns above, but it seems not to address the rest.The Administration’s proposal maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries. It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education, and Catholic charities. HHS offers what it calls an “accommodation,” rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our Church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches. And finally, it seems to take away something that we had previously—the ability of an exempt employer (such as a diocese) to extend its coverage to the employees of a ministry outside the exemption.

Second, United for Religious Freedom explained that the religious ministries not deemed “religious employers” would suffer the severe consequence of “be[ing] forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions.”After Friday, it appears that the government would require all employees in our “accommodated” ministries to have the illicit coverage—they may not opt out, nor even opt out for their children—under a separate policy.In part because of gaps in the proposed regulations, it is still unclear how directly these separate policies would be funded by objecting ministries, and what precise role those ministries would have in arranging for these separate policies.Thus, there remains the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities. Here, too, we will continue to analyze the proposal and to advocate for changes to the final rule that reflect these concerns.

Third, the bishops explained that the “HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all:individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values.”This includes employers sponsoring and subsidizing the coverage, insurers writing it, and beneficiaries paying individual premiums for it.Friday’s action confirms that HHS has no intention to provide any exemption or accommodation at all to this “third class.”In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath.We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.

Because the stakes are so high, we will not cease from our effort to assure that healthcare for all does not mean freedom for few.Throughout the past year, we have been assured by the Administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage.We remain eager for the Administration to fulfill that pledge and to find acceptable solutions—we will affirm any genuine progress that is made, and we will redouble our efforts to overcome obstacles or setbacks.Thus, we welcome and will take seriously the Administration’s invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all.At the same time, we will continue to stand united with brother bishops, religious institutions, and individual citizens who seek redress in the courts for as long as this is necessary.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York
February 7, 2013

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  • Bill S

    This seems to be a never ending conflict that most people are not really paying attention to unless it impacts them directly. I personally do not see why Obamacare had to include contraception. But when I see a Harvard graduate with two daughters on one side and the Catholic Church on the other and I see that the dispute is about contraception, one of my sins according to the latter, I have to go with Harvard over the Vatican.

    On the one side, we have Harvard with its long tradition of academic excellence. On the other side we have the Roman Catholic with its long tradition of religious authoritarianism.

    On one side we have enlightenment. On the other side we have intolerance and superstition.

    On one side we have a married man with children. On the other side we have a celibate man who presumably has never had sex but can issue decrees on human sexuality.

    If I had to choose a side to support, my decision would have to be with the former. There must be valid reasons for the President, the Leader of the free world and a lawyer by education, to do what he is doing.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      So …. instead of following the Church you are now going to follow Harvard?

      • Bill S

        The idea that the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God has misled me my whole life. I have come to learn to respect the wisdom of the world and reject religious authority. This is the path I am taking. My life is never going to be as successful as it would have been had I believed what you believe but it isn’t meant to be. Actually, nothing is “meant to be”, as I have found out.

        • Rebecca Hamilton

          Bill, the world has no wisdom. All it has is ever-changing fashion.

          “I have come to learn to respect the wisdom of the world and reject religious authority. This is the path I am taking.”

          • Bill S

            No. I think that is where you are wrong. Humanity has made great strides, many of which religion had no part in and sometimes even hindered. It is not ever-changing fashon alone that it has. It is ever-changing everything and almost all for the better.

            There is much more good than bad coming out of the HHS mandate. The only bad thing is a few bruised consciences. The good part can change lives.

            • http://www.rosariesforlife.com Dave

              “The good part can change lives.”

              Ending lives is indeed a big change.

        • Rick

          You may have turned your back on the Catholic Church, but you sure seem to be preoccupied with what Bishops and Catholics say. Maybe you haven’t turned as much as you think? Keep your foot in the door a little longer–it seems like you might want back in.

  • Peg

    Rebecca, thanks for these updates. I too support our bishops and 2,000 years of solid truthful teachings upholding the real dignity of all.

    It doesn’t seem like there can be compromise here. Once we allow government to define religion and it’s roles or chip away from the constitution, it will be nearly impossible to get that back. We all need to be out there now in a sustained movement of vocal opposition. We can’t negotiate this away from a lesser compromised position. There’s too much at stake to let the bishops stand alone.

    • Bill S


      If the courts determine that this is not a First Amendment issue, that is it. It is this country’s Constitution and Bill of Rights and this country’s courts that determine their applicability. The Catholic Church can’t dictate to the United States how its own laws should be applied.

      “It doesn’t seem like there can be compromise here.” What? Everyone else has to compromise on this and just about everything, but the USCCB can’t compromise? I don’t think these amendments will be as negotiable as the bishops seem to think.

      For profit entities are not religious institutions in any way, shape or form. This is about employee benefits that are to be provided by anyone who wants to do business in this country.

      • Rebecca Hamilton

        Uh-huh. Sorta like with Roe v Wade and Dred Scott. That’s how it will be “it.”

  • Bill S

    “You may have turned your back on the Catholic Church, but you sure seem to be preoccupied with what Bishops and Catholics say.”

    Guilty as charged. It amuses me to see how out of touch with the ideals of this country, especially freedom.

  • Peg

    Are there other catholic blogs of substance that are not so frequently hijacked?

    This blog is excellent and I appreciate the insight of many commenters. But this is ridiculous. Happy to have found truth in Christ, I have no interest in looking back nor patience in aethiestic hijinls…

    I don’t want Rebecca to change anything she feels called to do here becuase she does walk so close with Christ and may have the patience to plant a seed that will save a soul. But if there are other blogs with less hijacking and more catholic discussion on these serious matters I would love to know about them as well. Thanks

  • Bill S

    “Are there other catholic blogs of substance that are not so frequently hijacked?”

    I haven’t found any of this quality. I’m sorry if what I say offends you. I know that you are a good Catholic and that I am rebelling from its authority even though I enjoy all my associations with other Catholics in my life. Just ignore the post when you see my name. You don’t have to read them.

  • Peg


    I do skip over yours, it was just too much of the same thing over and over resulting in circular arguments that kept other discussions away.

    I know this site has great substance and it’s very tempting to comment. This is the first site that I commented where I didn’t personally know the blogger. The writing is excellent and thought provoking. I am always trying to hold back from commenting or be shorter so I understand.

    I hope you will let other thoughts through more and maybe have a longer in person discussion with a good priest or catholic. Rebecca most certainly has given you much to consider in Church wisdom.

    Anyway good luck and I will pray you find Christ again maybe this Lent.

  • Bill S

    Thanks Peg. I thought I was stimulating lively discussion but I guess I was hogging the stage and discouraging others, maybe even for fear of ridicule from me. I regret that others might have stopped visiting this website because of me.

    As far as talking to a priest, I really don’t see the point. As you know, and much to your dismay, I continue to practice the faith so as not to lead anyone astray. I do not want to live in a world devoid of faith, hope and charity regardless of my innermost beliefs.

    I see that it is almost impossible that this universe and humanity did not have an intelligent designer or that there is no Holy Spirit though I don’t believe in it proceeding from the father and the son.

    The only sensible thing for me to do is fake it till I make it. This means that until I can finalize an alternative worldview, I am just a Catholic with strong doubts regarding certain essential beliefs.