Letter: A response to ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ by Lon Newman
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), incensed at the Obama administration for guaranteed preventive health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that includes contraceptives, has called upon Catholics to contact their elected officials to tell them that “religious liberty must be restored.” The law must be repealed.
The Bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign seeks state protection for institutional power (employers, universities, hospitals, charities) to override the constitutional civil rights of individuals. This would be antithetical to our First Amendment and to religious liberty. USCCB makes a constitutional case, a moral case, and a policy case-but it makes none of them very well.
USCCB’s constitutional objections were refuted by Justice Scalia himself when he said in a 1992 case: “. . . if prohibiting the exercise of religion is not the object of the [law] but merely the incidental effect of a
Their moral arguments are refuted by the irreconcilable conflict between a woman’s constitutional right to reproductive privacy and the bishops’ insistence that employers and institutions be empowered by government to deny women prescriptions that others in other institutions have access to.
The bishops’ moral standing is refuted by their own behavior. If we accept their principle that we must not provide taxpayer support for “immoral” actions, should we not begin, for example, with the tax-exempt status of the Archdiocese of Green Bay after its criminal conviction for putting children at risk of sexual predators?
Their moral position is contradictory-they argue that the Administration’s compromise (insurance companies, not religiously affiliated institutions, must pay for contraceptives) is unacceptable because it is too fine a distinction-yet USCCB leader, Cardinal Dolan, has not denounced his former Milwaukee archdiocese’s courtroom argument that the diocese cannot be liable for predatory priests who worked for separately-incorporated religious orders-a fine distinction.
On policy, there is a proven national public interest in lowering health care costs, improving maternal and child health, reducing unintended pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted infections. In fact, it would be harmful public policy and would be constitutionally and morally wrong to give in to USCCB demands denying health care to some because they happen to work at a Catholic hospital or study at a Catholic university.
We must not permit them to discriminate against women, gays and victims of sexual assault in the name of an interpretation of religious liberty that is alien to our constitution.
Lon Newman, Wausau
Executive Director, Family Planning Health Services