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“A radically new and sharply diminished approach to how government will define religious liberty in the future”

by | Feb 29, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

Archbishop George Niederauer

In an op-ed written yesterday for the San Francisco Chronicle, Archbishop George Niederauer added his voice to the rising chorus of opposition to President Obama’s mandate that requires religiously-affiliated universities, hospitals, and charities to pay for health insurance that covers sterilization and contraception. 

“It has become commonplace to dismiss the questions that have arisen as merely revolving around contraception,” the Archbishop wrote, echoing but deepening a common refrain. “In the process, immensely deep questions of fundamental liberty are being shoved aside.”

And it is precisely this truth—that the mandate is about redefining and limiting religious freedom—that Obama is determined to obscure and people like Archbishop Niederauer are equally resolute about clarifying. Put another way, the Obama mandate is about upsetting the long-established status quo, which is why members of all faiths are objecting. (See here.)

Here are excerpts from his op-ed.

Embedded in the seemingly innocuous new federal regulations pertaining to contraception is a radically new and sharply diminished approach to how government will define religious liberty in the future. Only those religious institutions that center directly upon the inculcation of faith, and which employ and serve predominantly members of that faith, are to be seen as fully religious institutions. Other religious institutions, which always in the past have been seen as religious employers by the federal government, are now labeled only marginally religious and given a sharply lesser degree of religious freedom.

The consequences for the religious landscape of our nation, and the architecture of religious liberty in the United States, are enormous and immensely troubling. It is a basic tenet not only of Catholic faith, but of most religious communities, that religiously organized service to the poor, the sick, the marginalized and the outcast is to be undertaken precisely as an act of faith. This religious mandate to serve those in need, regardless of the religious beliefs of those who are served, has been the foundation for the only real safety net that existed during most of our nation’s history.

Now the very belief of religious communities that their faith compels them to reach out with care and consolation is cast as an obstacle to receiving the full measure of religious liberty in the United States.

The hospitals, homeless shelters, colleges, dining rooms for the poor, counseling clinics and senior centers operated by the religious communities across the nation are experiencing a dramatic reduction of their religious freedom, because of a small clause in health guidelines that promises to be the launching point for erecting a two-tier notion of religious freedom within the federal bureaucracy.

What National Right to Life was the first to point out was that if the logic that undergirded the mandate was allowed to stand, the federal government could then mandate whatever other highly objectionable services it wanted. Archbishop Niederauer addressed that next.

Not far into the future, this new notion of religious liberty could easily be used to require Catholic hospitals that serve Catholics and non-Catholics alike to perform abortions, i.e., to “offer a full range of reproductive services.”

He ends by repeating what is at the nub, the core of the controversy:

“So, the core disagreement is not about contraception, but about religious liberty.”

You can read Archbishop Niederauer’s full op-ed.

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Categories: ObamaCare