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HHS Mandate raises the stakes

| Sunday, March 2, 2014

Notre Dame continues to be embroiled in federal litigation challenging the Obama administration’s HHS Mandate. The mandate compels the provision of free contraception (including abortifacients) and sterilization services to female employees.

Private employers and their insurers subject to the mandate must not only provide access to contraception and sterilization services, but also must provide them at no cost to employees regardless of what they are required to contribute for other healthcare services.
Last Friday, writing for a divided federal appellate court, Judge Richard Posner denied Notre Dame’s most recent appeal for relief from the mandate. His opinion was no surprise.

Earlier this month, Judge Posner badgered Notre Dame’s attorney on oral argument, demanding at one point to know whether contraception is viewed by the Catholic Church as a mortal sin or as a venial sin. When our religious liberty rights blow with the winds of executive power or depend upon the judiciary’s prodding and parsing of theological considerations, we are entering a brave new world of hostility to religiously inspired moral values.

The HHS Mandate is a serious threat to religious freedom precisely because the Catholic Church’s teachings concerning sexual morality are directly related to our understanding of the relationship between God and man. They flow from the Church’s conviction regarding the sanctity of each human life.

Informed by sacred scripture and authoritative teaching, the Church proclaims that each and every human person is uniquely created in the image and likeness of God. Catholic philosopher Alice Von Hildebrandt sums this up with elegant precision: “Animals reproduce, humans procreate.” That is, man and woman cooperate together and with God in the co-creation of a unique human being, an immortal human soul.

Because we believe that procreation is such an extraordinary gift, literally a sharing of God’s creative power, we Catholics view complex questions concerning family planning, pre-marital sex, reproductive technologies, abortion and a host of other issues relating to sexual morality through the lens of our faith.

Francis Cardinal George, archbishop of Chicago and past president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks often of the grave danger posed by the HHS Mandate. While recognizing that anti-Catholicism has a long history in the United States, George is also quick to note that respect for moral pluralism has been central to the American understanding of religious liberty.
Reasonable people often differ in their conclusions relating to moral issues. Our government has consistently respected such pluralism when it comes to religiously-held moral imperatives. President Obama’s HHS Mandate stands in stark opposition to this legacy of respect for moral pluralism and religious liberty.

As Catholics, we do not demand nor expect that our fellow citizens will embrace our faith and its teachings. In fact, we acknowledge that Catholicism can be difficult to live out, even for many Catholics, and especially in our hyper-sexualized culture.

But we do expect government to respect our right to live and work guided by our faith-based moral values.

Has it really come to this — that executive branch discretion can be used to force private parties, including believing Catholics, to underwrite a value-free notion of sexual liberty? And that this radical assertion of administrative power might trump a history of respect for religiously based moral norms?

The stakes in Notre Dame’s ongoing HHS Mandate litigation could hardly be higher for those who hold religious liberty as one of our most treasured constitutional rights.

John Madigan is a graduate of Notre Dame and formerly served as General Counsel at the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, another HHS Mandate litigant. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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