Tuesday, January 14, 2014

USA Today Gets Religious Freedom Right

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

With its recent editorial “Obamacare overreach tramples Little Sisters of the Poor,” USA Today joins the Chicago Tribune among the mainstream print outlets to “get it” when it comes to religious freedom.

The newspaper has no fight with artificial contraception and sterilization, while the Catholic Church does. However, USA Today recognizes that the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate violates religious freedom by coercing religious ministries to participate in covering services that violate their beliefs – drugs and devices approved by the FDA as contraceptives, including those that can cause an abortion, and sterilization.

The issue isn’t the pill. The issue is the right to live according to one’s conscience. That’s a guarantee of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Initially, media recognized the religious liberty issue at hand. But once the Administration began its specious argument about a “war on women” and turned a religious freedom issue into one about sexual freedom, most media jumped on the free contraceptive bandwagon.

To quell the uproar over forcing religious groups to fund abortifacients, contraception and sterilization, the Administration devised its now infamous “accommodation.” The ploy: Churches per se don’t have to pay for these services. But when a religious school, hospital or charity can’t in conscience provide these drugs or devices for employees and their dependents, employers can sign a form authorizing their insurance companies or third-party administrator to do so. USA Today called the accommodation “more of a fig leaf than a fix.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor (and others, Catholic and non-Catholic alike) have gone to court to oppose this mandate. The nuns as much as said “Lord Divine! We won’t sign!” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor thinks they might have a point. She issued a temporary injunction New Year’s Eve against the crippling fines that the Little Sisters of the Poor would begin to face the very next day. At $100 per day per person affected by their policy, the fines could go well into the millions of dollars annually. That’s a lot of punishment for the nuns who care for the elderly and literally beg for donations in parishes and elsewhere.

USA Today offered the White House the opportunity to reply to its editorial, but it declined. So Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards stepped in. She promoted the tired “anti-woman” argument. She introduced a red herring with the suggestion that opponents of contraception oppose use of the pill for menstrual cramps, acne and endometriosis. For the record, the Catholic Church does not oppose medicine for such ills, and the Little Sisters’ complaint clearly states that.

Over 300 plaintiffs in over 90 lawsuits have gone to court to challenge the mandate and most are winning, as they argue they should not be forced by government to violate their religious beliefs. If this momentum should continue, to quote USA Today, “religious freedom would be granted the wide berth it deserves.”

Kudos to USA Today for taking a clear look at an issue that goes to the heart of what it means to be a religiously diverse, constitutional democracy.

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