WASHINGTON – The problems the Catholic Church and other religious organizations have with President Obama's health insurance regulations may dissolve this week when the Supreme Court is expected to rule on them.
But in the meantime, the Catholic bishops have wisely taken their "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign against aspects of Obamacare indoors, so far.
There appear to be no church-sponsored mass demonstrations, or any big marches on the Washington Mall, in the bishops' plans. This is to undercut charges that the bishops joined with the Republican right to defeat the president in November.
In the Fortnight's opening salvo Thursday night, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, speaking inside his 200-year-old cathedral, criticized "the administration's rules," but he never uttered the words "Obama" or "White House." The bishops' known plans call for Masses, sermons and prayer in-house, except for the single rally on a college campus here, announced Thursday by Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl. The campaign – planned to be more of a teach-in for the faithful than an outrage in the streets – ends with a nationally televised Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here on July 4.
One Obama regulation that prompted this angst forces church-related charities, schools, colleges and hospitals to offer its employees insurance covering birth control ranging from condoms to abortion-producing pills.
Politically, this is not a strong suit for the bishops – as Catholic women and many priests have serenely ignored the church's 1968 teaching against contraception.
Another Obama health care edict, not well understood, was the focus of Lori's remarks. It cuts deeply into the fabric of our history and religion's unique place in American law. The rule gives federal bureaucrats – not Congress or the people through constitutional amendment – the power to determine what is, and what is not, a church-related institution. Under the rule, a school or charity that employs only Catholics and serves only Catholics would be exempt from the contraception mandate. If the place lands outside those bureaucratic chalk lines, then insurance must be provided.
This rule is a deep probe. It is a long reach into church-state relations. Until now, the federal government has pretty much left church-related operations untouched. That's because of the First Amendment that says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." But after more than two centuries, churches abruptly see that Thomas Jefferson's clause can cut both ways. It means government can't meddle with an actual church. It also was designed to prohibit government financial support of churches. The Catholic Church bit into the apple when it used its power in the 1930s as public welfare expanded to extract more and more taxpayer dollars for its schools, colleges, hospitals and charities.
Suddenly, the Obama administration used this breach of the First Amendment in a bid to call the tune on how church teachings shape how ancillary groups like schools behave. This abrupt intrusion has upset many religious leaders. They wonder what's next. But they should have seen it coming as they accepted more and more of the regime's coin.
It is all very sad; and honest scholars will ask why the president did this after his administration awarded more than 1,300 exemptions to companies and unions from the mandate to buy health insurance.
If the court doesn't strike down the "Obamacare" mandate, the rules become law Aug. 1.
To those who relish the bashing of churches, ponder the abuse suffered by the school bus monitor in Greece, N.Y. This is how kids raised on Hollywood, news media and beer commercials behave.