If you’re connected to the Catholic world at all, you’ve probably picked up on the outrage surrounding the HHS mandate.
In case you’re not, let me summarize (in overly-simplified language–try this if you want more details):
Department of Health and Human Services: All employers have to provide insurance that covers contraception and sterilization.
Catholic Church: Except us, right?
HHS: No, you, too.
CC: Freedom of religion?
HHS: Okay, fine, if you employ and serve only members of your religion, you’re exempt.
CC: So you’re saying that to follow our consciences, our hospitals have to turn away all non-Catholics? Our schools can’t educate non-Catholics? Not going to happen. We’ll just shut everything down.
Obama: Sorry, folks! How about a compromise? You don’t have to cover the contraception. You just have to pay for insurance that does.
CC: Seriously? We’re still paying for it if we’re paying for other people to pay for it.
Most of the US: What’s the big deal? They’re not saying you have to use contraception, just that you have to provide it to others.
CC: Cool, well, you don’t have to kill those toddlers, you just have to pay for the bullets.
US: Why is the Catholic Church so anti-woman? Why are you taking away our rights? Are we going back to the Dark Ages?
CC: Whoa, we’re not even saying contraception should be illegal, just that we’re not going to buy it for you.
US: You have to! It’s a basic human right not to get pregnant!
CC: We didn’t want to do this, but…sued!
Hope that catches you up.
The U.S. Bishops have been united on this issue–something that may not have happened in the history of our nation. And they’re calling all Catholics–and all other Americans, religious or not–to take a stand against this violation of the First Amendment. Today begins what the Bishops have called a Fortnight for Freedom. They’re asking for prayer, fasting, education, and action from today, the vigil of the feast of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More (martyred by their government for refusing to violate their religious convictions), through Independence Day.
This is huge. This isn’t about contraception–as far as I know, we stopped fighting that in the secular arena after Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965. This is about being compelled–as an institution and as individuals–to violate our consciences. This is about the government making a law prohibiting the free exercise of our religious conviction against contraception. It’s a direct violation of the first amendment,1 which means this isn’t just a Catholic issue. Protestants, Jews, even Atheists should be concerned when the Bill of Rights is being ignored. And they are.
I don’t think the Obama administration was expecting anything like this. Theologically, the Catholic Church is a bastion of strength in an ever-changing world; politically, American Catholics (and our bishops) have been compromising for generations. I think everyone expected some grumbling and then a mass submission to the mandate. After all, 98% of Catholics use contraception anyway.2
But this time we seem to have been pushed too far. God has strengthened our shepherds and they are refusing to compromise on this. A mandate that required employers to allow women to opt in and pay for their own contraception we might have compromised on. But we’re not going to define contraception as “preventive medicine” because we’re not going to define pregnancy as a disease. And we’re not going to allow a nation built on the free exercise of religion to prevent us from exercising ours–indeed, to force us to violate it.
We’re not imposing our views on anyone here. If you want contraception, there are any number of ways to get it cheap or even free. If you want your employer to pay for it, find a different job. The Church’s refusal to submit here doesn’t make it impossible for other people to sin. It just means we’re not funding it.
“What will happen?” my students asked once they realized the gravity of this situation.
“Oh, we’ll take the government to court. And I think we’ll win. But if we don’t, we still won’t do it. We’ll pay the fines until there’s no money left. And then our bishops will go to prison en masse. It’s happened before.”
There was a glow in their eyes when I said that–they weren’t scared, they were excited. I can preach the Passion till I’m blue in the face, but it’s not real to them. The idea of people they know going willingly to prison rather than betray God? That got their blood pumping.
Is anybody else kind of excited about this? I mean, we’re talking institutionalized persecution here. And if nothing else, persecution separates the wheat from the chaff. No more of this cultural Catholicism or cafeteria Catholicism. When we have to suffer for Christ, we may lose a lot of Christians but we’ll gain a lot of saints. After all, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. Now I can’t imagine anyone’s going to die over this. President Obama doesn’t look much like Diocletian or Elizabeth I. No, it’ll just be fines and censures and maybe imprisonment for the really important folk. On this issue, anyway. But for the first time in living memory, American Catholics are really going to have to decide: Christ or the world.
So it’s fitting that the Fortnight begins on the Vigil of the English Martyrs. St. Thomas More‘s refusal to sign the Act of Succession didn’t disinherit the unborn Princess Elizabeth. It didn’t hurt anybody but him. He suffered for it. We might suffer, too. But I’d rather be headless in the company of the Saints than gutless at the right hand of Henry VIII or President Obama. And so we fight.
In the words of our bishops, “We cannot–we will not–comply with this unjust law.” Please join me in fasting, praying, and working for freedom.
Find out what your diocese is doing here.
*I don’t necessarily agree with everything said in the pages I link to above, just think they’re worth considering.*
- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. [↩]
- Which, by the way, is a made up statistic that involved polling only sexually active women of childbearing age who wanted to avoid pregnancy. Besides (to quote someone, I’ve forgotten who), “100% of Catholics sin, but the Church isn’t changing her position on that, either.” [↩]