Liberty imperiled? The Catholic bishops' argument is weak

June 11, 2012

The U.S. Catholic bishops have designated the two weeks leading up to July 4 as a “fortnight of freedom” and urged Catholics to rally for religious liberty—a liberty that is, they say, now “under attack,” especially from the Obama administration.

In their statement “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” the bishops offer seven “concrete examples” of religious liberty being undermined. Some of the examples are dubious, however, and touch on cases of varied seriousness and relevance. For example, the bishops cite a 2009 proposal in the Connecticut legislature that sought, in the wake of a case of fraud at a Catholic parish, to provide government oversight of parish finances. The bishops fail to mention that this proposal went nowhere in the legislature and was denounced on all sides as a clear violation of the First Amendment. The actual threat posed to religious liberty was minimal.

The galvanizing issue for the bishops, of course, is the Obama administration’s requirement under the Affordable Care Act that coverage for contraceptives be included in all health insurance plans. For months now, the bishops have been asking that exemptions to that rule be given not only to churches but to religious schools, hospitals and social service agencies. Otherwise, they argue, Catholic institutions will be forced to pay, through insurance premiums, for a medical service condemned by Catholic teaching.  

We earlier supported the bishops’ call for an expanded exemption (“Reasonable exception,” February 22). The administration responded to the bishops by declaring that the Catholic agencies in question would not have to pay for contraceptive coverage; that cost would be absorbed by insurance companies. This position both promoted the goal of full access to contraception and honored the bishops’ conviction that Catholic agencies should not have to pay for it.

The bishops rejected this approach, however, and never bothered to make a proposal of their own. This stance suggests that their concern all along was more about limiting access to contraception than about who foots the bill. That suspicion was confirmed when the bishops turned from arguing for an exemption from the contraception mandate to arguing for the repeal of the mandate itself, claiming that it’s a violation of religious liberty.

It isn’t. Under the First Amendment, religious believers have often been granted exemptions from general laws, such as laws requiring service in the military, or school attendance, or children’s vaccinations.  But the logic of accommodation on religious grounds has never meant that the law in question—requiring military service, say, or vaccinations—is itself a violation of religious liberty and must be repealed. That is the argument that the bishops are trying to make, but it is muddled and unconvincing. As we wrote several months ago: the claims of religious consciences must be respected, but they are not a trump card that wins every argument in public policy.


Hi,The Amendments limit the


The Amendments limit the power of US Congress. For instance, Article III. No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.  Thus, in peace time, the US Congress does not have the power to pass a law ordering the quartering of troops in peoples homes.

Article I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. James Madison had a simple test asking people to place their finger on the sentence in the US Constitution or Amendments that grant the power to the federal government.

It is a simple question, 'Can you place your finger on the sentence in the US Constitution or an Amendment, which permits the US Congress to order this?'

According to Bible teachings,

Romans 13: 1 - 7 (NIV)

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes

Thus, even the US Congress, the Executive Branch, and Judicial Branch should obey the law and not engage in illegal acts including violation of Amendment I.


Screaming Eagles



The editorial “Liberty

The editorial “Liberty imperiled?” (June 27) implied that some of the seven examples that the U.S. Catholic bishops gave of threats to religious liberty were dubious, and you gave one example. That may be true for that particular case, but you failed to mention some more serious threats the bishops mentioned that do not come from the Obama administration. One is the Alabama immigration law that seems to criminalize much church ministry to undocumented persons.

While it may be true that some bishops seem to be stuck on the mandate regarding contraceptive coverage, and some conservative Catholics have gotten behind this issue simply because of their opposition to the present administration, it’s simply inaccurate to paint the bishops’ conference as a whole with that stroke. They have consistently stood for justice for immigrants, for example. And they are not against health-care reform, nor have they called for the total overturning of the Affordable Care Act, only for eliminating the mandate. I would hope your characterization of their actions would be more accurate.

David Bruning

Wauseon, Ohio