Obama Touts Religious Liberty to Pope While Litigating to Force 15 Dioceses to Cooperate in Abortion

Terence P. Jeffrey | September 23, 2015 | 2:51pm EDT
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President Obama greets Pope Francis at the White House on Sept. 23, 2015 (Screen capture)

(CNSNews.com) - “So we stand with you in defense of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, knowing that people everywhere must be able to live out their faith free from fear and free from intimidation.”

That is part of what President Barack Obama said—in touting his administration’s commitment to religious liberty—when he greeted Pope Francis at the White House today.

At the same time, according to a count maintained by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Obama’s Justice Department is actively fighting 56 separate federal court cases aimed at forcing 140 religious ministries and institutions to cooperate with an Obamacare regulation that requires virtually all health care plans in the United States to cover contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs and devices.  

Among the religious institutions involved in these lawsuits with the administration are 15 Catholic dioceses and archdioceses, and multiple Catholic universities, schools and religious orders.

The Catholic Church teaches that contraceptives, sterilization and abortion are morally wrong.

As of now, the Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life, Bishop David Zubik of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, and the Archdiocese of Washington have made appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court to take up their cases against the Obama administration for violating their religious liberty.

In 2012, after the administration published its contraceptive-sterilization-abortifacient regulation, Bishop Zubik published a column on his diocesean website saying that the Obama administration was telling American Catholics to go to Hell.

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

"The Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, ‘To Hell with you!’” the bishop wrote in the column. “There is no other way to put it.”

In his appeal asking the Supreme Court to take up his case against the Obamacare regulation, Bishop Zubik is joined by Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh, Bishop Lawrence Persico of the Catholic Diocese of Erie, the Erie Catholic Preparatory School, and the St. Martin Center and the Prince of Peace Center, which are Catholic charitable organizations in the Erie Diocese.

In their petition to the court, these Catholic organizations explain that the Obama administration’s regulation, in its current manifestation, forces them to act against their Catholic faith.

“As entities affiliated with the Catholic Church, Petitioners sincerely believe that life begins at the moment of conception, and that certain 'preventive' services that interfere with conception or terminate a pregnancy are immoral,” they told the Supreme Court in their petition.

“Accordingly, they believe they may not provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to contraception, sterilization, abortion, or related counseling,” the petition says.

“Among other things, Petitioners’ religious beliefs prohibit them from signing a document that authorizes, obligates, designates, or incentivizes their TPA [the Third Party Administrator of their self-insurance plan] to provide their plan beneficiaries with coverage for abortifacients, contraceptives, and sterilization,” says the petition.

“Petitioners believe that signing such a document facilitates moral evil and makes them complicit in sin, regardless of whether they are required to pay for the objectionable coverage,” it says. “Although it takes only a few minutes, signing the self-certification form has ‘eternal ramifications.’”

Priests for Life makes the same argument in its appeal to the Supreme Court: The administration is trying to force it to act against the Catholic faith.

“Consequently, the government mandate directly forces Petitioners to provide the means and mechanism by which contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients (and related education and counseling) are provided to Priests for Life’s healthcare plan participants and beneficiaries, which is unacceptable because it compels Petitioners to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs,” says the Priest for Life appeal to the court.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., which is joined in its appeal to the Supreme Court by Catholic Charities of D.C., two Catholic high schools, a Catholic elementary school, the Catholic Information Center, Thomas Aquinas College and the Catholic University of America makes the same point to the Supreme Court.

“Petitioners are religious nonprofits who sincerely believe that it would be immoral for them to provide, pay for, or facilitate access to abortifacients,  contraception, or sterilization in a manner that violates the teachings of the Catholic Church,” they told the Supreme Court. “The  Government, however, has made it effectively  impossible for Petitioners to offer health coverage to  their employees and students in a manner consistent  with their religious beliefs.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor, who are joined by among others the Christian Brothers Services, have appealed to the Supreme Court saying the Obama administration is violating their freedom of religion.

“The Little Sisters of the Poor are Catholic nuns who devote their lives to caring for  the elderly  poor,” they said in their petition to the Supreme Court.  “The government has put them to the impossible  choice of either violating the law or violating the faith upon which their lives and ministry are based.”

Despite these and the other ongoing federal court cases in which religious groups are arguing that the Obama administration is trying to force them to act against their faith, President Obama today featured his respect for religious liberty in his speech addressing Pope Francis.

“You remind us that people are only truly free when they can practice their faith freely,” Obama t old the pope.

“Here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty,” Obama said. “It was the basis for so much of what brought us together.

“And here in the United States, we cherish our religious liberty,” Obama continued, “but around the world, at this very moment, children of God, including Christians, are targeted and even killed because of their faith. Believers are prevented from gathering at their places of worship. The faithful are imprisoned, and churches are destroyed.

“So,” said Obama, “we stand with you in defense of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, knowing that people everywhere must be able to live out their faith free from fear and free from intimidation.”

Speaking after Obama, Pope Francis said the bishops of the United States have reminded people to be vigilant in preserving religious liberty.

“With countless other people of good will, they [American Catholics] are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and the right to religious liberty,” said Pope Francis, speaking after Obama.

“That freedom reminds one of America’s most precious possessions,” he said. “And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”  

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