My first entry takes us back to the HHS mandate which requires all employers which provide insurance to their employees to include coverage, at no cost, for birth control, sterilization, and abortifacents. While time and the news cycle has generated many new controversies since that mandate was announced months ago -- Fast and Furious, the imposition of immigration laws by executive fiat, the EuroCrisis, the increasing dominance of Islamic rule in the 'Arab Spring' -- the discussion of the mandates is timely since the Catholic Bishops have announced the 'fortnight for freedom', which runs from last week through July 4th. Also, we are on the eve of the Supreme Court's decision regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which is the fulcrum of the mandates, so the time is right to consider the genesis of the mandates.
As a Mass-attending and practicing Catholic, I hope this discussion plays some part in convincing the readers of the lawlessness, the cynicism, and the divisiveness of the mandates. We must also consider that, if the Court upholds the constitutionality of the legislation, Americans of all stripes, faiths, and backgrounds will be subject to similar mandates imposed by the HHS, the IPAB, or some other Federal bureaucracy in the not too distant future.
The first question I pondered when the mandates were announced in the winter was: why would the President and his Administration choose to pick this fight with the Catholic leadership, particularly in an election year? Specifically, why didn’t Obama and Sebelius negotiate with the Bishops an alternative to the draconian measures imposed by HHS, which they had to know the Bishops were dutibound to oppose and take a public stance against. While I personally would not have been happy with this scenario, I think a compromise between the Bishops and the Administration was achievable and while the Bishops would not have been 100% happy with the outcome, they also would not have gone so public in their opposition. So why did the Obama Administration choose to pick this fight with the Bishops? I think there are five possible scenarios:
1. Obama and the Administration didn’t think the regulations would generate this degree of opposition from the Bishops. This scenario seems almost unthinkable, particularly since this Administration is led by the 'smartest person to ever hold the office' (just ask David Brooks). This scenario reflects a degree of ‘inside the Beltway’, liberal mind-speak which may exist amongst the decision makers. In any Administration, regardless of party affiliation, the President surrounds himself with similar thinkers, and rather than testing hypothesis against possible outcomes, the President's people create reasons why the decision the President supports is the right one. Some of this President's key advisors are aggressively pro-abortion (I choose to not call their position 'pro-choice', because there really is only one 'choice' which they support), including Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of HHS, so this hypothesis may well be the correct one. (The counterweight to this argument is the leaked story that both VP Biden and then Commerce Secretary Daly warned the Administration that the Bishops would oppose the mandates strenuously.)
2. Obama chose to pick a fight with the Catholic leadership because, for whatever reason, he concluded it is politically expedient. Maybe he thinks the pro-abortion groups would rally to his cause, similar to the way he hopes that environmentalists would rally to his cause with his decision to not support the Keystone Pipeline and Hispanics would cheer his unilateral imposition of immigration 'reform.' The Administration likely concludes it is politically more important to keep the pro-abortion groups satisfied than the political downside of alienating Catholic leadership and the faithful Catholics supporting the Bishops (of whom there are millions).
3. The President doesn’t really care how the Bishops would respond to the mandate because he thinks the Catholic population, by-in-large, doesn’t respond to this group of Catholic leaders and/or will actually discount their pronouncements. A previous generation of Catholic leadership lost credibility and the support of many of their faithful with their scandalous handling of the Priest sexual abuse scandals. (Indeed, a Pennsylvania jury just last week found a monseignor guilty in a criminal trial for the way he dealt with an abusive priest under his authority.) Obama may have calculated that the Bishops no longer have the 'juice' to influence or impact their flock. The fact that he would hang out to dry some of those Catholic leaders who supported him in the 2008 election and during the health care law campaign isn’t really important to him. He’s shown the ability to throw former supporters under the bus when politically expedient.
4. As a corollary to theory #3, Obama made the political calculation he can win in November without the support of the Catholic leadership and, if he’s estimated this correctly, he won’t owe them anything if/when he’s reelected. This scenario would mean goodbye to the purported Executive Order prohibiting federal funding of abortions in the new health care exchanges (you know, the Stupak Amendment which sealed the fate of the health care legislation in the House); goodbye to any pretense of religious liberty; and hello to a new age of religious tyranny by federal bureaucrats.
5. Finally, Obama may simply a true believer in the cause, and the core principle of providing women contraception and abortion financial assistance, and requiring Catholic institutions to do the same, is more important to him than any blowback from troublesome Catholic Bishops and some votes lost from the Catholic faithful. We know from his history in the Illinois Legislature that as a neophyte State Senator Obama aggressively opposed even the Born Alive legislation, which would have simply authorized hospitals and health care institutions to provide medical care to babies who surived an attempted abortion. Obama also famously stated he wouldn't want either of his daughters to be 'burdened' by an unwanted pregnancy. So, using the Occam's Razor theory, this may be the simplest yet most persuasive explanation for the imposition of the mandates.
Whether the decision of the Administration is motivated by any or some combination of these theories, or some other explanation, it is not overly dramatic to suggest that these mandates present one of the most significant Constitutional challenges between the Federal Government and organized religion in the history of the Republic. As a practicing Catholic, I am proud of and applaud the stance and bravery of the Bishops in not backing down or shrinking away from the oppressive imposition of insurance requirements which are in stark contravention to Catholic dogma and principles. I urge Catholics and men and women of principle and of any faith to support the Bishops in this effort. This is not a fight against Catholics; it is a fight against the free exercise of religion in this country.
Within hours we will know how the nine Justices of the Supreme Court decided the battle over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Regardless of the outcome, the battle for religious freedom must and will continue to be waged. This is one of the primary reasons why brave men and women fought and overthrew a tyrannical king and crown two hundred forty years ago, risking their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, and created our great Republic. As we near yet another celebration of that historic event, we owe it to those men and women to carry on their legacy.
Are you all in?