Obama Admin vs Religious Conscience UPDATES

One of the stupidest political remarks I ever heard came from Ben Affleck, who — campaigning for Hillary Clinton during her 2000 senate run — declared that a vote for her opponent, Rick Lazio, would amount to a vote (I am paraphrasing) “to bring back Irish Need Not Apply signs in the workplace.”

It does appear, though, that the Obama administration has decided that a Catholics Need Not Apply sign might be in order.

Today Michael Gerson spells out why that may be so:

Shortly before Obama spoke at Notre Dame, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts brought suit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), seeking to eliminate a grant to programs that aid victims of human trafficking. Because Catholic programs don’t refer for abortions, the ACLU alleged that public support amounts to the establishment of religion.

The Obama Justice Department defended the grant in court. But last month, HHS abruptly ended the funding. It did not matter that an independent review board had rated the bishops’ program more effective than those of its competitors — or that career HHS employees objected to the politicized handling of the grant. HHS announced it was giving preference to grantees that offer “the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.” This was described by one official as “standard procedure.” So it is now standard procedure in the Obama administration to deny funding to some Catholic programs based solely on their pro-life beliefs.

Broadly applied, the HHS policy would amount to systemic anti-Catholic bias in government programs. And the provocation is one in a series. HHS has drawn conscience protections so narrowly that Catholic colleges, universities and hospitals — any Catholic institution that employs and serves non-Catholics — will be required to offer health coverage that includes contraception and drugs that cause abortion. In global health grants, new language is appearing that requires the integration of family planning and “reproductive health” services, effectively barring the participation of Catholic institutions. [. . .]

The main victims of this assault are not bishops but the poor and vulnerable. USCCB-sponsored human trafficking programs, for example, provide employment assistance, legal services, child care and medical screening. But because case managers won’t refer for abortions, HHS would rather see these programs shut down in favor of less effective alternatives. This form of anti-religious extremism counts casualties.

It’s not just HHS, by the way: recently Obama’s EEOC argued against hiring practices in the Lutheran Church, and their argument would impacted other churches, as well:

The justices then rejected the argument of Leondra Kruger, Obama’s lawyer for the EEOC, who argued that there’s no ministerial exception in the Constitution, only the same rights that secular organizations possess to choose their own affiliations.

At this, Scalia exploded. “That’s extraordinary! There, black on white in the text of the Constitution, are special protections for religion. And you say it makes no difference?”

Kagan agreed with Scalia’s rejection of the argument that the First Amendment doesn’t protect churches from government ordering who they should hire as pastor or priest.

Justice Samuel Alito (a Catholic) made a critical point, asking if a Catholic priest married and the church removed him from ministry for violating Catholic doctrine, could the EEOC order him reinstated.

When Kruger answered no, Alito replied that EEOC was making a judgment that certain teachings — such as the Catholic belief that priests must be celibate — are more important than the Lutheran doctrine that ministers cannot sue the church.

A while back at First Things,, noting the number of ways this administration seems determined to push religion out of the public arena, I wrote:

The government’s position is that their notion of “women’s health” must trump moral or religious concerns. It seems that one of the most fundamental freedoms provided for by our Constitution and the Bill of Rights ends at the beginning of a double-X chromosome. [. . .] Look, if the government desires to provide women with free contraception and sterilization, it is quite free to codify that dubious benefit under existing medical programs, without mandating participation by any entity at all. Likewise, any legislation concerning any “entitlement” can be written with built-in protections and exemptions for religious service-providers. That so many politicians choose not to include such stated protections—or to write them so narrowly that they are easily unraveled—says a great deal about their commitment to the Bill of Rights, and it portends poorly for our constitutional future.

Apparently 27 Senators are looking for more information. It’s nice to think that perhaps some legislators are at least aware of the fact that the faith communities — and not just Catholics — are being maneuvered out of the public square.

As I also wrote in that piece:

If our politicians are able to erode rights simply by writing policy, and if they can declare “outside the law” those who had previously worked under the protections of the constitution, then the nation is in grave danger of losing its heart, mind and soul.

We are watching the government initiate an erosion of religious freedom, by narrowing the scope of that freedom until the churches are excluded from the public arena, entirely. Freedom of Religion will soon enough become a right that is protected — but only as long as one keeps it to oneself.

UPDATE I: Archbishop Chaput: Catholics and the Next America

UPDATE II: Over at Return to Rome, Prof. Francis Beckwith has “Progressive Politics and Diminishing Religious Liberty”

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