The Fight to Be Catholic

The fight to protect Catholic institutions from the Obama administration’s new health-insurance mandate is not only a dispute over contraception and abortion. For many colleges, schools, and charities, it is a fight for the right to be Catholic.

If the outrageously narrow “religious employer exemption” put forward by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is allowed to stand, America’s concept of religious freedom under the First Amendment will be dangerously altered. It can have an impact far beyond health care, to issues such as employment benefits for homosexual partners, the National Labor Relations Board’s jurisdiction over union disputes with Catholic schools, and federal grants for Catholic social services.

That’s why the U.S. bishops, with great urgency, launched their national campaign over the weekend to protest the new regulations. Bulletin inserts were sent to state Catholic conferences and parishes across America, asking Catholics to write to HHS before the agency stops accepting comments on September 30. (The process is quick and easy — see the bishops’ website here.)

And for weeks before that, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and a variety of Catholic organizations — including the Cardinal Newman Society, Catholic Vote, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, the Catholic Hospital Association, and others — have warned of the great danger to the Church posed by the Obama administration’s redefinition of religious freedom.

The problem? Not only has HHS mandated that insurance plans must provide free sterilization and contraception to women — which includes several FDA-approved drugs that may act as abortifacients — the mandate applies even to many Catholic institutions.

That’s because the very narrow religious exemption that HHS included in the regulations protects only “churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches” and “the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.” That excludes any Catholic apostolate that is not legally owned by the Church — which, in the United States, is most of the Catholic nonprofits outside of dioceses, parishes, and parochial schools.

Moreover, the mandate is imposed on religious apostolates that are not established for the “inculcation of religious values,” such as social service agencies. Exemption also depends on hiring and serving “primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization,” leaving the definition of “primarily” to the whims of federal bureaucrats.

Looming over the entire exemption is the regulation’s language that HHS “may” exempt churches within the provision’s narrow scope. Nothing aside from the government’s interest in avoiding a court battle stands in the way of simply refusing to exempt even a Catholic diocese from the contraceptive mandate.


Then there’s the particular case of Catholic colleges, which are hit especially hard. According to an analysis by public interest lawyers at the Alliance Defense Fund, described in a memo commissioned by the Cardinal Newman Society, the HHS rules apply to all insurance for non-employees, including students.

“This may exacerbate conscience violations in states that require health insurance for full-time college students, to the extent that any plan compliant with the state coverage mandate is itself subject to the HHS abortifacient mandate,” write attorneys Matthew Bowman and Kevin Theriot.

In fact, the HHS regulations were implemented immediately in August — an extraordinary move that allows public comment only after the rules are already in force — precisely because HHS wanted to ensure that students quickly receive free coverage for birth control and sterilization.

“Many college student policy years begin in August and an estimated 1.5 million young adults are estimated to be covered by such policies,” HHS noted in the Federal Register announcement of the guidelines. “Providing an opportunity for public comment…would mean that many students could not benefit from the new prevention coverage without cost-sharing following from the issuance of the guidelines until the 2013-14 school year, as opposed to the 2012-13 school year.”

College girls will be able to go on the Pill, obtain an IUD, or undergo a tubal ligation on college health plans without a co-pay. And many Catholic families who send their Catholic girls to Catholic colleges seeking a Catholic campus environment will find that students’ sexual exploits are subsidized by a college insurance plan.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Obama administration is threatening the religious liberty of even the most faithful of Catholic institutions. These threats come from not only from HHS; they come from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which claims Belmont Abbey College violated federal nondiscrimination laws by refusing insurance coverage for contraception. They come from the National Labor Relations Board, which has claimed jurisdiction over Catholic colleges’ union negotiations. They come through the Education Department, which issued new regulations forcing states to be more proactive in chartering colleges, thereby tying student aid to a potentially political process that threatens overtly religious colleges. And there is increasing state discrimination against religious institutions with regard to same-sex marriage and contraception.

Catholics nationwide need to stand up and demand that the Obama Administration repeal the new health-care regulations that blatantly violate our religious freedom. The bishops have made it simple at their website here.

Patrick J. Reilly


Patrick J. Reilly is founder and president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a national organization to advocate and support the renewal of genuine Catholic higher education.

  • Gail Finke

    Thank you for your concise presentation of this vital issue.

  • Gregory Savage

    It’s no longer about “boiling the frog” — it’s here, it’s called persecution. Is our Church strong enough, quick enough, courageous and willing enough to fight it and all the other social ills that got us here?

  • Micha Elyi

    Has any bishop yet called upon the Catholic hospitals, colleges, and other such institutions in his diocese to draw up contingency shutdown plans to be used in the event the State insists such institutions violate the moral law?

  • Terry Ingalsbe

    I will say what I first said in a letter to (then) Archbishop of DC Wuerl (now Cardinal) when I first read the House version of this abomination. I was in shock and horror when I read this bill. Some at the time expressed concern that it would include abortion and others denied it. This law does and did include abortion but it includes so much more. As a result of this law children now belong to the State and no longer are the responsibility of parents to raise them. It will cause every single truly Christian and Catholic dayschool, preschool, grade school, high school to close. It will cause Catholic hospitals and clinics to close. As a result of the education bill being passed with this law, and the goverment now controlling student loans and moving to control the certification of higher institutions, Catholic and Christian colleges and universities will close. This law is about the total and complete collapse of the entire health care system, and the buildng up of a government run and governent controlled health care program. The infrastructure is being built right now in front of our eyes. By the time the infrastructure is complete…the system will collapse and it will be in place to take over. (my heart sinks and trembles with each new announcement from HHS) The whole counry could be given waivers and it wouldn’t matter because this law is not about health care. They are biding their time unti their infrastructure is complete.

    This law is also all about the government taking over children and controlling the next generation. (The law enables the gov to define family) This law can not be looked at in isolation of the other legislation that has passed last year. This law combined with other legislation is about replacing the family with the government (race to the top, child nutrition act, social worker reinvestiment act, education act. etc.

    And then there is the third and most incideious part of the law that no one is talking about and that is “research” hidden in terminology like “evidenced based practice” and other such jargon. Folks are beginning to be upset about the fact that the law will require insurance companies to turn over information on ALL Americans to the government. That is only the tip of the iceberg. Ask your self “what does it mean when a government that is not governed by a morality established by God….a government who believes it has the authority to define moral code…also has the legal authority for unlimited, unregulated, unsupervised research to biological, medical, psychological, behavioral, social research. This research will also include DNA records all children born in this country (DNA is collected on every child born in America and this infor will automatically be funneled to the Feds.) as well as educational, financial, acheivement information. Oh, and don’t know if folks know this but one of the regs passed incudes the fact that every single child will be required to have an annual psychological mental health exam at school (schools will have medical homes incorporated into their design) and because of child confidentiallity (UN rights of the child, don’t ya know) parents will not necessarily have the right to discuss or learn what is discussed or revealed.

    No, it is time for the Catholic Church in this country to wake up and really see this law for what it is. This issue of mandates regarding insurance is really just the tip of the iceberg. Pray….pray for our country! This entire law needs to be repealed immediately.

  • Terry Ingalsbe

    p.s. The part of the law that gives a child to the state is the section of the law regarding the “adult formation of children”. Please read this section. It is terrorfying. This is all tied into the LGBT agenda which is strongly be pushed and promoted by the SAMHSA department of HHS (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). BTW… the annual mental health exam for kids is so the schools (gov) can identify “problems before they become problems”. And…it’s for the sake of the child…of course…dont ya know!

  • susan martin

    THATS IT! In 2011 Obama has to go! 25% of this country is Catholic. It should be easy. VOTE as if your life depended on it. Your freedom does.

  • susan martin

    THATS IT! In 2012 Obama has to go! 25% of this country is Catholic. It should be easy. VOTE as if your life depended on it. Your freedom does.