English history always intrigues me so after catching some repeats of the Showtime series, "The Tudors," on BBC America, my interest in English was peaked again and I was prompted to do some more reading on the history of King Henry VIII and his court. In addition to being remembered for the renaissance he brought to the monarchy, his multiple wives and executions of his enemies, his legacy also includes his suppression of the Roman Catholic faith in England. The more I read and watch the series I can't but help to find it hard to believe that one man and his court had such power to destroy the religious freedom of his people, raze its monasteries and suppress its clergy. We might think to ourselves that this is an experience of the past or if it happens today it happens in other countries that do not enjoy the liberty that our nation does. We would be wrong to assume this, however, because recent actions of our federal government make evident how much religious freedom is threatened in our country today.
When the federal health care reform law was passed it included a provision that all employers who provide health care benefits, must provide coverage for contraception (including abortion inducing drugs and sterilization) at no cost (no-copay) to its employees. When religious employers raised concern about being made to pay for products and procedures they considered morally objectionable, a very narrow religious exemption was proposed. The exemption would only be granted to religious institutions that engaged primarily in serving people of the same religion. As many pointed out at the time, even Jesus and the disciples would not qualify for such an exemption because of their commitment to people of all faiths. For the last several months Catholic and other religious institutions have lobbied to have our religious freedom respected. This week, however, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it has refused to exempt religious institutions that serve the common good—including Catholic schools, charities and hospitals—from the mandate that requires employers to purchase contraception, including abortion-producing drugs, and sterilization coverage for their employees. Instead they have given us one year delay to comply with the directive to violate our conscience.
This action of the President’s administration is an unprecedented act against the freedom of conscience. Furthermore this is the second such attempt by the administration to define parameters for religious institutions. Two weeks ago in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the administration dismissing as an “extreme position” the plea of EEOC to limit any “ministerial exception” solely to workers who perform “exclusively religious functions. In this case the government was arguing it was within their purview to define who qualified as a minster and not the Lutheran Church. This ruling did not seem to stop the administration in their pursuit of governing religious entities as it pushed forward an exemption to only those who serve and employ people of their own faith exclusively. This unjust action will force us to violate our conscience or stop serving people of all faiths in our ministries or stop providing health-care coverage to our own employees. Are any of these choices just? Are any of these choices reflective of the religious freedom and the right to conscientious objection that Americans have fought and died for?
These actions of President Obama and his administration ought to concern all Americans, not just those with a religious affiliation. It seems hard to believe that one man and his administration have such power to destroy the religious freedom of we the people.