The Catholic Voices Blog
The VP Debate and the HHS Mandate
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, the historic Church council that, among other things, paved the way for the new evangelization that we're a part of here at Catholic Voices. The Council's Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignatatis Humanae, roots its understanding of religious freedom in the dignity of the human person and recognizes religion as an essential aspect of the common good.
Hopefully at tonight's debate Joe Biden and Paul Ryan will discuss their understanding of religious freedom and its implications for the administration's mandate forcing most religious employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause early abortions. Nothing should prevent these two Catholics from sharing their faith's robust conception of religious liberty -- after all, just a short time ago a long-standing bipartisan consensus existed in favor of strong religious liberty protections, particularly regarding rights of conscience in health care. It was President Clinton who signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law after it received broad Democratic support. And during internal administration discussions of the HHS mandate, Vice-President Biden reportedly warned the president that Catholics would see such a move as a government intrusion on their religious liberty.
He was right. Catholics have spent months rallying for religious freedom; Catholic institutions large and small have sued to prevent government imposition of heavy fines from stopping their work educating children, healing the sick, and serving the poor; and even long-time administration supporters like Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association have rejected the so-called compromise on the mandate. Here's Sister Carol:
That HHS included contraceptive coverage and sterilizations was not unexpected but, frankly,we did expect and felt all along that the typical exemption for a religious institution that has religious objections to it would be honored.
Initially, we felt like we were being told that that was in the works. I don’t want to second-guess why that changed, but when it changed - and all we had was a year deferment if we were a ministry of the church and a new definition for what constituted a religious organization - we were very concerned.
And I expressed those concerns directly to the president, to all of his staff and said something had to be changed.
Remember that Sister Carol's support was so key to passage of the Affordable Care Act that President Obama gave her one of the pens he used to sign it.
She thinks there's a straightforward solution to the mandate's infringement on religious freedom:
So as we have talked consistently with the administration, we said, ‘We should just revisit this. Go back to what we first suggested to the administration, early on when this came up.’ And that is use the time-honored definition that the federal government has used to define religious organizations. Don’t make up a new one.
A question for the two vice-presidential candidates tonight: do you agree with Sister Carol?