Latest House CR Funds and Permits Obamacare’s Attack on Free Exercise of Catholicism

By Terence P. Jeffrey | October 1, 2013 | 1:48pm EDT

House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

( - The last version of the continuing resolution that House Speaker John Boehner (R.-Ohio) pushed through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Monday—and that the Democrat-controlled Senate summarily rejected—surrendered a position that House Republicans had taken in the previous CR that protected Americans from being forced by an Obamacare regulation to act against their moral or religious convictions.

The Obamacare regulation in question effectively prohibits American Catholics from freely practicing their faith in the way they live their daily lives.

Indeed, the Catholic bishops of the United States have unanimously declared this regulation an "unjust and illegal mandate" and "a violation of personal civil rights."

Many of the nation's Catholic bishops have also publicly declared in writing that they "will not obey it."

The CR the House approved after midnight on Sunday included an amendment sponsored by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R.-Tenn.). That amendment said the Obamacare “preventive services” regulation--which requires almost all health-care plans to cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs--could not be imposed between now and Jan. 1, 2015 on employers, health insurers or individuals who opposed "such requirement for coverage based on religious or moral objections.”

Last Thursday, the U.S. Catholic bishops had reiterated their call to Congress to protect religious liberty by attaching language to either the CR (or the legislation needed soon to increase the debt limit) to prevent the Obama administration from forcing this regulation on Catholics and others who object on sincere moral or religious grounds to buying or providing coverage for sterilizations, artificial contraceptives or abortions.

"We are writing once again, as chairmen of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, on an increasingly grave concern to our Church and many others: Preserving religious freedom and the right of conscience for all who take part in our health care system," Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore told members of Congress in a Sept. 26 letter.

"We have already urged you to enact the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940/S. 1204)," Cardinal O'Malley and Archbishop Lori wrote. "As Congress considers the Continuing Resolution and debt ceiling bill in the days to come, we reaffirm the vital importance of incorporating the policy of this bill into such 'must-pass' legislation."

H.R. 940 would make into permanent U.S. law the same conscience protection Blackburn’s amendment to the CR would have temporarily established through Jan. 1, 2015.

In their Sept. 26 letter, the bishops told members of Congress that Catholic "schools, social services, hospitals and assisted living facilities ... should not be told by government to abandon or compromise those [religious] convictions in order to continue serving their own employees or the neediest Americans.

"Nor should individual Catholics or others be told they cannot legally purchase or provide health coverage unless they violate their conscience," the bishops said.

They pointed to Obamacare’s “preventive services” regulation as a "particular threat" to the freedom of conscience.

"A particular threat is the Administration's mandate for covering contraception, sterilization and related education and counseling as 'preventive services' for enrollees and their minor daughters," the bishops told the House members. "The mandate includes drugs and devices that can act against human life after fertilization, implicating our moral teachings on abortion as well as contraception. The more than six dozen lawsuits filed against this mandate by hundreds of for-profit and nonprofit organizations led by people of faith highlight the need to reassert Americans' right to live and serve in accord with their deepest convictions about the sanctity of life.

"Business owners are subject to the mandate now," said the bishops. "Their suits are pending but may not be resolved in the courts for many months."

"Those who help provide health care, and those who need such care for themselves and their families, should not be forced to choose between preserving their religious and moral integrity and participating in our health care system," the bishops told the members of Congress. "Please act on this matter without delay.”

Three days after the bishops delivered this letter, the House voted to include Blackburn’s conscience-protection language in the CR. Four days after the bishops delivered this letter, the House leadership stripped this conscience-protection language from the latest version of the CR the House passed on Monday.

The Democratically controlled Senate rejected both CRs—the one that protected religious freedom and the one that didn’t.

The Catholic bishops have repeatedly described the Obamacare regulation as an “unjust” law.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who leads the Roman Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services, for example, wrote a letter on Jan. 26, 2012 that he asked Catholic chaplains to read to all Catholics in the U.S. military attending mass at military facilities that Sunday.

"It is imperative that I call to your attention an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly, and that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith," Broglio wrote. "The federal government, which claims to be 'of, by, and for the people,' has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people—the Catholic population—and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful. It is a blow to a freedom that you have fought to defend and for which you have seen your buddies fall in battle."

"We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law," Broglio told the troops.

In June 2012, all of the Catholic bishops of the United States unanimously approved a statement declaring the Obamacare regulation an "unjust and illegal mandate" and a "violation of personal civil rights."

"The HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values," said the unanimous Catholic bishops. "They, too, face a government mandate to aid in providing 'services' contrary to those values--whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees; or as insurers themselves--without even the semblance of an exemption."

Earlier this year, when the Department of Health and Human Services released the draft of an adjusted version of the regulation--theoretically designed to answer the concerns of the Catholic Church and other Christian groups that had raised objections--the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released comments it had provided to HHS stating that the adjusted rule remained an "unjust and unlawful mandate" that attacked religious liberty.

“Like earlier iterations, the latest proposed regulation requires coverage of sterilization, contraception, and drugs and devices that can cause abortions," the bishops said in their comments.

“In short, the Administration continues to propose: (a) an unjust and unlawful mandate," said the bishops, with "(b) no exemption or 'accommodation' at all for most stakeholders in the health insurance process, such as individual employees and for profit employers.”

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