HICKS: Furor obscures real issue: Religious liberty

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Last week, amid the furor over Georgetown University law student and feminist activist Sandra Fluke’s now-famous congressional testimony about the “financial burden” of contraception for college coeds, the ensuing media feeding frenzy over talk-radio giant Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Ms. Fluke, and the White House’s masterful creation of a supposed “war on women” being waged by Mr. Limbaugh and conservatives, something very serious was lost in the shuffle.

The issue at hand.

The threat to America’s heritage of religious liberty posed by the Obama administration and Obamacare managed to make its way out of the news cycle despite what should be seen as a major assault.

The administration remains unbending in its requirement that all employers offer free coverage of sterilization, contraception and abortifacient drugs, even if employers object to such coverage on religious grounds.

The supposed “accommodation” offered by the Department of Health and Human Services that insurers, rather than employers themselves, could fulfill the mandate was rejected as the sham it is, given that many Catholic institutions self-insure and therefore still would be required to pay for health services they find morally unacceptable.

Not to mention the fact that the “solution” to the conscience problem was only for institutional employers, not individuals of faith who choose to operate their private businesses in ways that reflect their moral and religious beliefs.

If the policies associated with the implementation of Obamacare reflect disrespect for religious freedom, the posture of the administration itself proves that religious liberty is simply not its concern.

In a March 2 letter to his fellow bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, leader of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, revealed a bombshell - a twist in this story so significant that it should have been plastered across America’s news outlets with block-lettered headlines. Unfortunately for our republic, the nonstory of last week was this: “Obama administration urges Catholic Church to chsange its doctrine, become ‘enlightened.’ “

Updating his brother priests on the fight to uphold religious freedom, Cardinal Dolan disclosed, “At a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff, our staff members asked directly whether the broader concerns of religious freedom - that is, revisiting the [straitjacketing] mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption - are all off the table. They were informed that they are. …

“Instead, they advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the ‘enlightened’ voices of accommodation. … The White House seems to think we bishops simply do not know or understand Catholic teaching and so, taking a cue from its own definition of religious freedom, now has nominated its own handpicked official Catholic teachers.

“Meanwhile, in our recent debate in the Senate, our opponents sought to obscure what is really a religious-freedom issue by maintaining that abortion-inducing drugs and the like are a ‘woman’s health issue.’ We will not let this deception stand,” Cardinal Dolan wrote.

It bears noting that Cardinal Dolan reassured the community of bishops and the Catholics they serve that a recent unanimous Supreme Court decision, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, reaffirms the right of a church to define its own ministry and services.

That such a decision even was necessary when our Constitution opens with the premise of religious liberty is a sign of the times - and not a good one.

This administration is using everything it can find to obfuscate from the issue at hand. Freedom-loving Americans - not only those who value religious liberty, but also those who value liberty as has been defined by our history and our heritage - need to keep our eyes on the ball.

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