If the President and his apparatchiks at HHS thought the outrage voiced by various cardinals, bishops, and countless lay Catholics over the anti-conscience mandate was mere bluster, they got a wake-up call yesterday. On Monday, 43 high-profile Catholic organizations, including the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. and the University of Notre Dame, filed suit against the Obama administration. In an open letter, the Archbishop of Washington summed up the collective position of the plaintiffs by explaining that the mandate "fundamentally redefines the nation's long-standing definition of religious ministry… HHS's conception of what constitutes the practice of religion is so narrow that even Mother Teresa would not have qualified."
Of more immediate concern than Mother Teresa's status, of course, is that of hundreds of Catholic health care organizations, schools, and charities. The anti-conscience mandate is a brazen attack on the autonomy of these institutions, and President Obama's belated accommodation is nothing more than camouflage for that assault. It requires them, as Cardinal Wuerl correctly puts it, "to provide their employees with coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs." Thus, the Consortium of Catholic Academies, Archbishop Carroll High School, and the Catholic University of America are co-plaintiffs with the Archdiocese of Washington in the federal lawsuit filed yesterday.
Collectively, Catholic organizations provide services to more Americans than any other entity except the federal government itself. Its 600 health care institutions, for example, provide care to one in six patients treated in the United States every year. Catholic schools provide education to millions of elementary and secondary school children, while more than a million students attend the nation's 200 Catholic colleges and universities. And it is this very ubiquity that is the real target of the anti-conscience mandate. The "fundamental transformation" Obama and his accomplices wish to inflict upon America can't be managed while large, autonomous institutions like the Catholic Church and its charitable organizations remain in place.
But the leaders of this particular institution are not inclined to surrender their mission or their dignity as easily as have others, like the Fourth Estate and secular academia. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote shortly after the anti-conscience mandate was announced by HHS, "We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans. We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it." And Cardinal Dolan is a man of his word. Cardinal Dolan's New York Archdiocese and the Catholic Health Care System were among the 43 plaintiffs who filed lawsuits yesterday against the federal government.
The Obama administration and its many allies in the "news" media will, of course, claim that these lawsuits are without merit, just as they did with the Obamacare challenges that are about to be decided by the Supreme Court. They will characterize them as an attempt by a group of reactionary religious zealots to restrict the "reproductive rights" of women. This is Orwellian nonsense. It is, in fact, the Obama administration that seeks to deny millions of Americans freedom of conscience. As Cardinal Wuerl put it yesterday, "The lawsuit in no way challenges either women's established legal right to obtain and use contraception or the right of employers to provide coverage for it if they so choose.… This lawsuit is about religious freedom."
Indeed it is. As a new website launched yesterday by the Archdiocese of Washington phrases it, "This lawsuit is about an unprecedented attack by the federal government on one of America's most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one's religion without government interference." And the Obama administration has obviously launched this assault on religious liberty in an effort to propitiate the feminist left, whose support it apparently deems more valuable than that of millions of Catholics and countless other people of faith. This is a bad call. It may garner Obama a few extra votes from naïve college kids, but the American electorate is among the most religious on the planet. The HHS mandate will lose in court and it may cause Obama to lose at the ballot box.