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Column: Coercing individuals to violate their consciences is un-American

Archbishop Naumann

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

The news cycle has a very short attention span.

The media is beginning to lose interest in the concerns raised by many people of faith regarding the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandates requiring religious entities and individ- uals to provide contraception, abortion- inducing drugs, and sterilization to em- ployees.

It is obvious that the president believes so passionately in providing contraception and abortifacient drugs that he is willing to risk the constitutionality of his health plan and perhaps his own election. There is little doubt what the president is doing is ideologically based. Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby for some time have been attempting to close Catholic hospitals or to co-opt them into providing so-called “reproductive health services” — translate abortion and sterilization.

In addition to the ideology behind the president’s efforts, he has also made a political calculation. He is convinced that if he can focus the public discussion on access to contraception that he will benefit politically from the actions of his administration.

It is fascinating that, on one hand, advocates for the HHS mandates quote polling data that claims 95-98 percent of all American women in child-bearing years have used contraceptives, but on the other hand they claim there is an access problem. While the polling data is skewed in many ways, it does make it hard with a straight face to claim that there is a real contraceptive availability crisis.

The issue raised by the HHS mandates is not fundamentally about contraception or abortion. It is about religious freedom and conscience protection. What is most troubling about the HHS mandates are they are part of a pattern by this administration.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a rare unanimous decision, ruled as unconstitutional an effort by the Justice Department to interfere with the ability of a Lutheran school to hire and retain faculty based on religious belief and practice. A few months earlier, HHS chose not to award a grant for the care of victims of sex-trafficking to a Catholic agency because it refused to provide abortions and contraceptives.

Part of the administration’s strategy is to limit the understanding of religious freedom to freedom of worship. Certainly, freedom of worship is an essential component of religious freedom. Without the freedom to worship, there is no meaningful religious freedom. Not so long ago, communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe restricted severely freedom to worship. In communist China and many Islamic countries, many Catholics and people of other faiths have their freedom to worship restricted or completely denied.

Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right that not only applies to the ability to worship God as one chooses, but also to live in accord with the dictates of one’s own conscience. Authentic religious freedom prevents government from coercing individuals or communities from being forced to act in a manner that seriously violates the moral principles derived from reason and religious faith.

The First Amendment to our Constitution — the First Right of the Bill of Rights — protects religious freedom. The First Amendment reads: “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 people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Notice how the First Amendment first speaks about protect- ing the free exercise of religion and then immediately identifies other protected activities that are not necessarily religious — e.g., speech and assembly.

In the case of abortion, the vast majority of Americans agree that those who object morally to abortion should not be forced to participate in the killing of an innocent human life. Even though some may have participated in a form of mental gymnastics to convince them- selves that abortion is not the violent destruction of innocent human life, nearly all Americans do not think it right to force those who believe every abortion destroys an innocent human life to fund and/or to participate in an abortion. The HHS mandates, by requiring the provision of ella, an abortion inducing drug, indeed does coerce Catholics and the majority of Americans, who are pro-life, to participate in abortion.

With regard to contraception, many people do not immediately understand why this is also so morally objectionable to Catholics and many others. Most people do not remember that less than 100 years ago, every Christian denomination considered contraception as seriously sinful. As recently as 50 years ago, contraception was illegal in many states until the Supreme Court discovered a “right to privacy” in the Constitution which they used to strike down all state laws prohibiting or limiting contraception.

Oral contraceptives are perceived by many Americans as one of the great human advancements of the 20th cen- tury. With the lure of “sexual freedom” and the noble effects that were prom- ised — 1) prevention of the imminent global disaster of overpopulation; 2) the prevention of abortion and teen pregnancy; 3) the elimination of child abuse; and 4) the strengthening of mar- riages strained by the weight of parental responsibilities — it was not a difficult public relations exercise to popularize contraception.

The experience of the past 50 years has been quite different than what the proponents of contraception promised. So-called sexual freedom actually resulted in a trivialization of sexual intimacy, as evidenced nightly by popular “entertainment.”

Today, Western Europe, Russia and Japan are threatened by a serious problem of population implosion (depopulation). There are not enough young people to support the services needed to care for the older generation.

Despite the contrary claims of contraceptive advocates, the trivialization of sexual intimacy has resulted in: 1) more than a million abortions annually; 2) pornography as the fastest growing addiction; 3) epidemics of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; 4) a 50 percent divorce rate; 5) cohabitation becoming culturally normative; and 6) the percentage of couples marrying dramatically declin- ing. The destabilization of family life
to which the contraceptive mentality significantly contributed has resulted in a host of social problems.

One could make a compelling argument that the most serious health risk for society is the trivialization of sexual intimacy caused by the widespread use of contraception. Yet, Planned Parent- hood has convinced the president that America’s most pressing health need is free contraception and abortion- inducing drugs.

Yet, even if you agree with Planned Parenthood and President Obama about the benefits of contraception, you should still oppose the HHS mandates. Why? Because it is simply un-American to coerce individuals to violate their conscience to pay for someone else’s lifestyle choice. The question before our nation is quite simply: Are we willing to trample on the First Amendment, religious freedom and conscience protection to make abortion, sterilization and contraception free? Think about it!

If you wish to hear more about what our Catholic faith teaches about religious freedom and conscience protection attend the School of Faith free lecture at Holy Spirit Parish on March 1 at 7 p.m.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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