Recently the Administrative Committee of the USCCB released a Statement in which they express several important aspects behind the HHS mandate.
There seemingly has been some debate whether the mandate is about contraception or about Religious Freedom. Recent articles have been emphasizing one or the other. In reality both have to be taken into account but not in the same way.
The emphasis on it being an issue of religious freedom can make it seem that the evil of contraception is just a religious belief, not a moral truth that is valid for all human persons. But the emphasis on contraception can lead to miss the point of the true issue behind the mandate.
To understand what the real issue is we need to take into consideration a very important distinction between cause and occasion. Here cause means “that for the sake of which something is done”, in other words, that which determines the scope of the action. Occasion means “something whose presence favors the action of a cause”. It is like an advantageous though not indispensable situation for causality to take place.”
It is obvious the mandate is asking for coverage of contraception, but this is only the occasion. The cause behind the mandate is the extension of government power by interfering in religious matters, where government has “no legal competence or authority.”
The Bishops are giving immediate attention to the following issue:
“the now-finalized rule of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services that would force virtually all private health plans nationwide to provide coverage of sterilization and contraception –including abortifacient drugs–subject to an exemption for “religious employers” that is arbitrarily narrow, and to an unspecified and dubious future ‘accomodation’ for other religious organizations that are denied the exemption.”
An unwarranted government definition of Religion
The Bishops are firm in stating that:
“The mandate includes an extremely narrow definition of what HHS deems a ‘religious employer’ deserving exemption–employers who, among other things, just hire and serve primarily those of their own faith.”
This narrow definition creates problems. That is why the Bishops are:
“deeply concerned about this new definition of who we are as people of faith and what constitutes our ministry. The introduction of this unprecedented defining of faith communities and their ministries has precipitated this struggle for religious freedom. Government has no place in defining religion and religious ministry.”
Houses of worship and ministries of service go together
The Bishops have also come upon an uncalled for distinction: “HHS creates and enforces a new distinction–alien both to our Catholic tradition and to federal law–between our houses of worship and 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, of any faith community or none.”
That is why the statement reminds us that “all–not just some–of our religious institutions share equally in the very same God-given, legally-recognized right not ‘to be forced to act in a manner contrary to [their] own beliefs’(DH, 2).”
The grave consequences
The narrow definition of ‘religious employer’ found in the HHS mandate leads to two very serious consequences: (1) “Those deemed by HHS not to be ‘religious employers’ will be forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions.”; (2) It creates a class of individuals with no conscience protection at all that “face a government mandate to aid in providing ‘services’ contrary to [their faith and moral values].” This is against the rights of individuals not to act against their religious beliefs or moral convictions.
The present circumstances demand from us as Catholics to know what the real issues are and how we should respond as Catholics and as American citizens.
See the USCCB Statement here: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/Admin-Religious-Freedom.pdf