The new Trojan horse: The HHS mandate and our religious liberty

| Father Timothy Cloutier | February 28, 2013 | 1 Comment

Unable to breach the walls of the City of Troy with a frontal assault, the Greek attackers constructed a giant horse and hid inside soldiers who would later, under cover of darkness, sneak out and open the gates of the city. The utter destruction of Troy and its passing from history was the result.

The Greeks had played on the sensibilities and values of the Trojans as the basis for their ruse. The horse was the symbol and embodiment of what it meant to be a Trojan.

The current form of the Health and Human Services Mandate (HHS) of the Obama White House is a Trojan horse for those who hold dear their constitutionally guaranteed exercise of freedom of religion. It is a ruse that plays on the sensibilities of faith — that is, on compassion, charity and fairness — as its disguise.

Heart of the issue

On the surface of it, universal health care and affordable coverage sound good and desirable to anyone who professes faith in a loving and compassionate God and who embraces genuine concern for those unable to afford even a minimum of affordable health care for themselves and their families.

But it isn’t the provision for either that is at issue; it is what it mandates for people of faith, of any faith, that is the problem — the “soldiers” who will sneak out and undermine the defenses of the City of Faith.

The Founding Fathers of this republic realized that, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

This latest “enterprise of civil authority,” the HHS mandate, effectively overrides the “free exercise clause” of the Constitution’s First Amendment, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The first president of the United Sates, George Washington, stated that “the conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them.”

The 44th president sees it quite differently. It is the intent of this administration to limit the exercise of religion strictly to places of worship, banning the influence or practice of one’s faith in the social forum.

In other words, we are being told: “You can believe, preach and practice whatever you want in your churches, synagogues, mosques or temples, but you may not exercise your freedom of religion or of conscience anywhere else.”

Many of the provisions of the HHS mandate as it currently stands have nothing to do with authentic health care, but are a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt at the highest level of the federal government to restrict and undermine not only the free exercise of religion as identified in the U.S. Constitution, but the underlying freedom of conscience of people of faith in this country.

This is to be accomplished by forcing religious employers to fund practices in opposition to their beliefs. The real issue here, then, is not one of forcing anyone to accept the teachings and doctrines of any faith group, since those teachings are not what are being debated. It is rather one of the federal government clearly attempting to force religious employers — church-related or individuals — to apply their resources to the funding of practices contrary to their convictions.

Religious employers of hospitals, clinics, schools, group homes, adoption agencies and many other outreach or ministerial activities would fall under this mandate. Believers would be forced to pay for the gamut of “preventive health care for women,” a disingenuous euphemism that includes abortions, contraceptives and abortifacients, and very likely the many ethically questionable and growing number of life-ending procedures.

The question begs itself: How does this undermine religious freedom? If people of faith are forced to act contrary to their beliefs, it is obviously an untoward infringement of their freedom of conscience, but equally forces upon them a public counter-witness to their beliefs.

Attack on human dignity

Nor are these serious issues and problems with the HHS mandate in its current form a merely “Catholic issue.” They will affect people of faith of whatever religion, and even those with none, whose moral consciences will be violated by its provisions.

In 1979, Blessed Pope John Paul II, in his first encyclical letter, “Redemptor Hominis,” wrote: “Certainly the curtailment of the religious freedom of individuals and communities is not only a painful experience but it is above all an attack on man’s very dignity, independently of the religion professed or of the concept of the world which these individuals and communities have. The curtailment and violation of religious freedom are in contrast with man’s dignity and his objective rights” (n. 17).

Father Cloutier is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Category: Commentary