Health-care humbug: ‘Religious freedom’ rallies threaten religious freedom
Look for another round of “religious freedom” protests in cities around the country today. Aggressive right-wing religious lobbies are purportedly organizing “Stand Up” rallies to stop “the unjust violation of our religious liberty by the Obama Administration’s contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs mandate.”
It’s all baloney, of course.
The Catholic bishops and their Religious Right allies, in fact, are waging war on religious liberty and its constitutional corollary, the separation of church and state. They are demanding that federal health-care policy conform to their religious dictates.
The Obama administration insists that all Americans have access to birth control services through their insurance plans. There’s nothing wrong with that. Ninety-eight percent of women who are sexually active use birth control at some point in their lives.
To implement this policy, the administration is asking all employers to make sure their insurance plans include contraceptive services. But to satisfy religious objections, houses of worship are exempt from the mandate. And employees of religiously affiliated institutions such as hospitals and colleges would get birth control services directly from insurance companies at no cost to the religious employers.
This isn’t good enough for the Catholic hierarchy and the Religious Right, of course. So they’re out in the public square pretending their religious liberty is at risk. Some bishops are even comparing themselves to Martin Luther King Jr. and hinting darkly that they may have to engage in civil disobedience and go to jail.
The bishops also claim the administration is not talking with them in good faith about their concerns, so that’s why they had to file a series of lawsuits challenging the birth control mandate.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, suggests the Obama administration can’t be trusted to follow through on proposals to protect the church’s religious liberty interests.
“These ideas are being thrown around,” she told The Washington Post, “but it would be foolish to sit around like Little Mary Sunshine and hope things change.’’
Trust me, Sister, nobody is ever going to mistake you for Little Mary Sunshine. Walsh may be the only nun in America who thinks the all-male Catholic hierarchy is always on the right track about everything.
So what’s really going on here? In short, the lust for money and political power is driving this movement.
The bishops are alarmed that lucrative federal contracts and grants are at risk under the Obama administration. The hierarchy and its charities get millions in government subsidies and they fear that the largess might disappear if administration officials insist that all contractors follow public policy, not religious law, in carrying out programs.
The bishops’ recently lost a $19 million, five-year contract with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help victims of sex trafficking because they refused to provide reproductive care – or even referrals – for vulnerable women, as the government rules mandated.
Heavens! If this keeps up, the hierarchy might have to turn to its parishioners, not the taxpayers, to pick up the tab for its religiously rigid social services. And a lot of money is at stake. HHS spokesperson Marrianne McMullen told CNN last year that HHS alone has awarded $650 million to Catholic social service agencies over the last three years.
No wonder the bishops are turning up the heat across the board to make sure the Obama administration doesn’t cancel any more contracts. And if the White House refuses to cave, the bishops want someone else living there.
It’s impossible to see the bishops’ crusade, aided by the ever-partisan Religious Right, as anything but an election-year crusade to bring Obama to his knees or kick him out of office.
It’s the 21st century and we live in a nation that supposedly separates church and state, but this whole thing has a whiff of the Dark Ages about it.
Americans overwhelmingly approve of birth control, and a clear majority thinks reproductive services should be a benefit of health insurance. In a secular democracy, who gets to decide public policy – the people or aggressive religious lobbies?