Catholics in the United States face an unprecedented situation — one that threatens the essence of our religious freedom. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ health insurance mandate will force Catholic organizations to provide insurance coverage for sterilization, contraception and abortifacient drugs for their employees. This requirement, which takes effect next year, will be compulsory for every Catholic organization.
Under this rule, the Knights of Columbus will be forced to use membership dues and money generated through insurance sales to fund health care that provides drugs and procedures that violate the moral teaching of the Catholic Church on the transmission and sanctity of human life.
Constitutional scholars have described the administration’s mandate as unconstitutional and illegal. And the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has vowed to fight it, calling on the president to rescind his mandate and urging Congress to pass legislation to protect our religious liberties. This is not only a Catholic issue. Thousands of Protestant ministers have publicly opposed the mandate, with some saying that they would go to jail before violating their religious beliefs. In response to the firestorm of controversy that the mandate has created, the Obama administration has offered a so-called accommodation. But what has been offered is both inadequate and unacceptable.
The administration argues that since contraception is less costly than childbirth, insurers can provide this coverage for free, and therefore, Catholics and Catholic institutions should not be concerned. If the president’s logic were correct, insurance companies could offer many other prescription drugs for free, since controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, for example, is less expensive than treating patients for heart attack and stroke. But we know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. The fact remains that Catholic organizations will pay for health insurance programs for their employees, and those programs will be required to provide services that violate our moral beliefs.
And the National Right to Life Committee has warned that the administration’s mandate may not stop there. The administration’s logic provides the groundwork for mandating abortion coverage in the future since abortion is less expensive than childbirth. Never before has the federal government used its power to violate religious liberty in this way, insisting that religious organizations pay for programs that violate their moral convictions.
A decade after drafting the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. In it, he stated: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.” In the 1950s, the Knights of Columbus led efforts to have the words “under God” added to the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. These words came from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Like Jefferson, Lincoln knew that America’s greatness cannot be separated from the affirmation in the Declaration of Independence that we are a nation of inalienable rights “endowed by our Creator.”
In January, Pope Benedict XVI spoke out publicly about the new threats to religious liberty in the United States. He said: “It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States comes to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness.” Today, the Knights of Columbus has a critical role to play in defending our religious liberty. We must support our bishops when they insist that President Obama rescind his unjust mandate. We must also urge members of Congress to pass legislation to protect our liberties. And we must pray that this threat to religious freedom will be overcome. We face a time of great challenge. Every brother Knight must do his part. Like so many brother Knights before us, I am confident that we too will stand firm in the cause of freedom and in defense of our Church.