Top U.S. Catholic Bishop: ‘Administration is on Wrong Side of the Constitution Again’

January 23, 2012 - 5:18 PM

Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan

Cardinal-desigate Timothy M. Dolan is the archbishop of New York and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has recorded a video message bluntly stating that the Obama administration has a habit of advancing policies that violate the U.S. Constitution.

“But I am afraid the administration is on the wrong side of the Constitution again,” Dolan said in the video.

The new video message is the latest step in an escalating and historically unprecedented confrontation between the Roman Catholic Church and an American president.

It centers around what the American Catholic bishops see as the Obama administration’s efforts to restrict the right of Catholic citizens and institutions to freely exercise their religion as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution.

This time, Dolan said, the administration is moving to violate the 1st Amendment by forcing Catholics to purchase health insurance plans that cover sterilizations and artificial contraceptives, including abortifacients. The church teaches that sterilization, artificial contraception and abortion violate the natural law and that Catholics cannot be involved in them. Dolan called on Americans to contact elected officials and call for the administration’s health-insurance regulation to be rescinded.

The regulation is part of the initial implementation of the universal health-care law Obama signed in March 2010.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that despite pleas from the Catholic bishops and from Catholic lay people it was moving ahead with enforcing the Obamacare sterilization-contraception-abortifacient mandate as of Aug. 1—thus giving Catholics a choice between following the moral teachings of their faith or the health-care mandates of the Obama administration.

(In issuing the final regulation on Friday, HHS Secretary Sebelius indicated that unlike Catholic individuals, who will be required to follow the administration’s sterilization-contraception-abortifacient mandate starting this Aug. 1, she would give religiously based organizations until Aug. 1, 2013 to act against their faith and follow the administration’s order.)

The last time the Obama administration was on the wrong side of the Constitution, Dolan said in his video message, was in the recently decided Supreme Court case of Hosanna Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In that case, the Obama Justice Department argued that it could order the Lutheran Church to reinstate a minister—in this case a “called teacher”--whom the church had removed from the ministry. The court rejected the administration’s argument.

“The court ruled that churches have the fundamental freedom to choose their own ministers without government interference,” said Dolan in his video. “Nothing could be truer. All nine justices of the Supreme Court rejected the administration’s incredibly narrow and unprecedented interpretation of religious liberty in that celebrated case. The court’s decision was a homerun for the 1st Amendment and for our democracy.

“But I am afraid the administration is on the wrong side of the Constitution again,” Dolan said. “Now it has ordered almost every employer and insurer in the country to provide sterilizations and contraceptives, including some abortion-inducing drugs, in their health plans. And it is requiring almost all Americans, even those with ethical and religious objections, to pay for this coverage.

“The administration offered a very narrow religious exemption to some employers such as churches, but the government will still require most Americans to pay for this coverage even if it violates their consciences,” Dolan said. “That is a foul ball by any standard. Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience.

"This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights," said Dolan. "How about letting our elected leaders know that we want religious liberty and rights of conscience restored and the administration’s mandate rescinded? We can’t afford to strike out on this one.”

The confrontation between the Catholic Church and President Obama has revolved around several administration initiatives that would compel Catholic individuals and institutions to act in ways that contradict the church’s moral teachings.

These include the argument the Obama Justice Department is making in federal court against the Defense of Marriage Act (n.b. that opposing same-sex unions ought to be treated in the same manner legally as racial discrimination), the administration’s determination to discriminate against adoption agencies that do not arrange adoptions for same-sex couples, the Department of Health and Human Service’s determination to discriminate against agencies serving migrants and refugees that do not provide abortions and contraceptives, and the administration’s efforts to require “sexual orientation” sensitivity training in federal agencies.

Back on Sept. 20, 2011, Dolan sent a public letter to President Obama decrying actions being taken by the administration in opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act that Dolan said “imperil religious freedom.”

“I write with a growing sense of urgency about recent actions take by your Administration that both escalate the threat to marriage and imperil the religious freedom of those who promote and defend marriage,” he said to Obama.

“The Administration’s failure to change course on this matter will, as the attached analysis indicates, precipitate a national conflict between Church and State of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions,” Dolan warned the president.

A little more than a week later, on Sept. 29, 2011, in his capacity as president of the U.S. Conference of Cathoic Bishops, Dolan sent a letter to all of the American Catholic bishops announcing that the conference was setting up a new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty that would be headed by Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn. The primary purpose of the committee was to counteract attacks on religious liberty by the federal government.

“We recognized our need to protect this foundational principle of our country, one that has been enshrined in the United States Constitution, further enumerated in the First Amendment, and explicitly extended to all U.S. citizens,” Dolan wrote his brother bishops. “The Framers of the Constitution themselves understood this ‘First Freedom’ to be based on the norms inherent in Natural Law—namely, ‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and Happiness.'

“This basic right, in its many and varied applications for Christians and people of faith, is now increasingly and in unprecedented ways under assault in America,” Dolan wrote. “This is most particularly so in an increasing number of federal government programs or policies that would infringe upon the right o conscience of people of faith or otherwise harm the foundational principle of religious liberty.”

In that letter to his fellow American bishops, Dolan revealed that before he sent his Sept. 20 public letter to President Obama both he and Cardinal Frances George of Chicago--the previous president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops--had written private letters to the president expressing their concerns about the government's threats to religious liberty. Obama, however, did not even bother to respond to these letters from the Catholic bishops of two of the nation's largest Catholic dioceses.

“I had previously written to him privately, as had my predecessor Cardinal George, but, since neither of us had received a response, and, since the trends continued, I decided to make this letter public,” Dolan told the American bishops. “I have offered to meet with the President to discuss these concerns and to impress upon him the dire nature of these actions by government.”

The archbishop did in fact meet with Obama in November to explain to him Catholic objections to the administration’s sterilization-contraceptive-abortifacient health-insurance mandate. Nonetheless, on Friday, the administration announced its determination to move forward with the mandate, and Cardinal-designate Dolan recorded his video message in response.

Pope Benedict XVI announced earlier this month that he will make Archbishop Dolan a Cardinal of the church at a ceremony that will take place at the Vatican on Feb. 18.

While opposed by the Catholic Church as a violation of the religious freedom of Catholics, the administration's sterilization-contraception-abortifacient health-insurance mandate was supported by the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority Foundation, Planned Parenthood and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.).