Obamacare still threatens our religious freedom
President Obama projects a thoughtful, measured demeanor, but there is nothing judicious about his unbending support of a mandate that violates the religious freedom of millions of Americans. The president has had months to reverse a policy that forces Catholics to violate their faith. Yet the administration has refused to make substantive changes. Its stand should concern individuals of all religions. At issue are rules developed by the Department of Health and Human Services aimed at providing preventive care for women under the Affordable Health Care Act. The rules initially required employers' health care plans to provide free contraceptive coverage.This would include the morning-after pill and other forms of birth control, which are opposed by the Catholic Church. The administration did provide a narrow religious exemption. A "religious employer" would not have to offer the benefit if the organization served and employed primarily people of the same faith and was dedicated to spreading religious values. This ignored the reality that many church programs are aimed at serving others, regardless of their religion. Hospitals and such efforts as the Diocese of St. Petersburg's Pinellas Hope sanctuary for the homeless would not qualify for the exemption. Even some Catholic schools, which don't limit students or faculty to Catholics, wouldn't be eligible. After the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and others protested, the administration altered its approach a bit, saying that the contraceptive payment would be made by the insurance company. This artful sleight of hand changed nothing. Faith-based employers still will be forced to provide health care plans that offer coverage for a practice they find morally offensive. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responded, the amended plan "still forces us to act against our conscience and our teaching." This complaint should not be dismissed as a political ambush by conservative religious leaders. There are many progressive bishops who actually favored the expansion of health care. But they joined their conservative brethren in objecting to an overreaching government dictate that cavalierly dismisses a tenet of their faith. There is no doubt the free contraceptive coverage would be welcomed by many women. And no doubt many of the more than 68 million American Catholics don't necessarily agree with the church's stand on birth control. But such matters are irrelevant. The issue is this: For a certain segment of the population, providing such coverage would be a grave sin. That the administration refuses to respect or accommodate their beliefs is instructive.
The Daystarter: Sunny and dry Memorial Day; meet the caretaker who looks after the fallen; uncertainty over the education budget; why did St. Pete close the Albert Whitted sewage treatment plant?