[UPDATE: ObamaCare rules changed to make insurers ‘bad guys’ in Catholic furor]
A firestorm is brewing as leaders of the Catholic Church in the U.S. react to a decision by the Obama Administration that there will be no exemption for church-owned hospitals, universities, social service organizations, homeless shelters and soup kitchens from certain provisions in the new federal health insurance law. Among issues the Catholic Church opposes is the requirement that the church must provide health insurance to its workers that includes contraceptive drugs and services, in direct contradiction to Catholic teaching.
Regardless of one’s opinion about access and availability of contraception devices, the conflict certainly points toward a sensitivity to religious tenets of any faith. But more importantly, it is a battle over the rights of states to enact insurance legislation vs the constitutionality of the federal government doing so, in this case dictating that all citizens must adhere to a law mandating the purchase and/or providing of insurance that includes coverage of something that infringes on one group’s freedom to practice its religion.
As it stands (aside from court cases, to be discussed later), Catholic leaders are not asking that the law be ruled void based on its constitutionality, they are simply seeking an exemption from one part of the law.
Not that exemptions to ObamaCare (also known as the “ACA,” Affordable Care Act) haven’t already been made. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, no fewer than 1,200 waivers and exemptions to the sweeping new law have been granted by the Obama Administration. Among those who have been granted exemptions or fully waived from implementing the law among workers or members are:
- United Federation of Teachers
- Jack in the Box
- Teamsters locals nationwide
- Pavers and Road Builders District Council
- Indiana Area UFCW Union Locals and Retail Food Employers
- Waffle House
- New Hampshire
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida
- Universal Orlando
- Aspen Skiing Co.
- Ashley Furniture/Homestore
- Downstream Casino Resort
- Firekeepers Casino
- Bill Miller Bar-B-Q Enterprises
- AMF Bowling
- Ruby Tuesday
- Foot Locker
The list is far, far too big to post here. But the fed does post online all those who have received waivers. Staggering.
Worth mentioning is that 40% of all those granted waivers and/or extensions from President Obama‘s landmark legislative victory are unions, and fully 20% of those granted waivers are in the California district represented by Democrat and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Muslims, Christian Scientists and the Amish will also be exempt.
The Obama Administration has been adamant that it will not grant a waiver or exemption to the Catholic Church that will permit it to offer to its employees health insurance plans that do not have contraceptive coverage, which directly contradicts church doctrine. Instead, it granted an extension for church-owned organizations to comply with the law, until August 2013.
“The public health case for making sure insurance covers contraception is clear,” wrote HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a recent USA Today column. In the piece, she stated that she felt the law provided the appropriate “balance” between the rights of religious employers and their workers.
An exact number of those employed either directly by Catholic churches or institutions owned by churches or dioceses is difficult to ascertain. In Miami, for example, the Archdiocese of Miami Catholic Health Services operates 26 facilities, with tens of thousands of employees working in two Catholic hospitals, three health care centers, three senior housing facilities, two residential centers for children, seven day-care centers, two specialized assisted-living homes, and more than 20 other social service and charitable institutions. Not to mention the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities arm, which claims to be the largest non-governmental provider of services to the needy in South Florida, which runs homeless shelters, transitional housing programs, addictions and recovery centers, immigrant and refugee programs, and dozens of other centers and programs.
There are 194 Catholic dioceses in the U.S.
So, with the Obama Administration unwilling to grant an exemption of one part of the federal health insurance law to the Catholic Church, the religious order is left with a dilemma: Does it adhere to its tenets and run afoul of the law by not offering contraception coverage to its employees, or does it reject a core value of its religion by purchasing the insurance for its employees?
If the Catholic Church in Miami alone were to hold to its religious beliefs and not offer the insurance, and instead closed shop instead of offering the coverage, who would be affected? Through its hospitals, care facilities, homeless shelters and soup kitchens, it aids more than 1,300,000 people each year, many of whom would find no solace from the local government, as there is no government or private concern so fully entrenched in the community with the ability to serve the underprivileged.
Not all of the workers employed by the Catholic Church are Catholic, and it would seem reasonable to assume that a majority might not be. And while some Catholic universities and hospitals do, in fact, offer insurance plans that include contraception to its workers, does the federal government have the right to force those dioceses that do not offer – and do not want to offer – contraception coverage to its employees to do so anyway?
If the federal government were to enact some sort of “healthy eating” law that required a balance of different foods among institutions, restaurants, etc., would it also for the Hebrew Union College in New York — which operates a soup kitchen for the homeless — to prepare and serve pork products to its clientele, if such an action would contradict the students’ faith and tradition?
By forcing Catholic institutions to offer contraception services to its workers in direct opposition to church teaching, is the federal government trampling on the First Amendment rights of those churches, which have been guaranteed that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof?”
If the Supreme Court finds in June that the law itself is unconstitutional (dozens of states have filed suit to find the individual mandate illegal), then the point may be moot. But if not, there are already court challenges to the law on the basis of religious discrimination.
Not everyone is happy that the Catholic Church is seeking an exemption from the law, including many liberals and some radicals. On the other hand, there are conservatives who believe the president has overstepped his bounds.
As this battle of “the law of God” vs “the law of Man” unfolds, Judgment Day on the issue can’t come soon enough for the president, who likely wants the debate to be dead and buried long before election time rolls around.