Perhaps Barack Obama assumed that religious leaders would simply offer a token protest to his new mandate for religious organizations to provide free birth control, even when contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization violate the core doctrines of their faith. The president might have had reason to expect that Catholic bishops wouldn’t put up much of a fight, considering their support for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly known as ObamaCare, from which Health and Human Services derives the authority to dictate their coverage requirements to employers.
Obama has enjoyed significant support from Catholics, the largest religious group in the country, winning the Catholic vote by nine points in 2008 and relying on their support to pass the PPACA. However, the Catholic bishops have united against the Obama administration after the imposition of the mandate, along with leaders of other religious denominations. Richard Land, who leads the largest Southern Baptist organization in the U.S., proclaimed solidarity with Catholics and pledged to go to jail before submitting to the HHS mandate.
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Evangelical leaders Chuck Colson and Timothy George declared this the moment when Christian organizations would have to choose between Caesar and God. Jewish theologian and scholar Meir Soloveichik signed a joint statement of opposition in The Wall Street Journal, along with Colson and Bishop Donald Wuerl – a statement noting that stories "involving a Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew typically end with a punch line,” but that they consider this to be no laughing matter.
The strongest statement of opposition came this week from President Obama’s home town of Chicago. Francis Cardinal George sent a message to parishioners in the archdiocese that the Catholic Church would shut down its various institutions in the community before violating the core doctrine of Humanae Vitae by providing contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients to its employees, free or otherwise. In a lengthy missive, George remarked that Catholic bishops are fighting for a separation of church and state, and that the mandate represents an unprecedented arrogance in Obama’s attempt to have government define the boundaries between faith and works.
“Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship,” George wrote, noting that even the Soviet Union allowed people to go to church, “if you could find one.” The HHS mandate emulates the Soviet experience, George argued, in declaring that only places of worship demonstrate the free exercise of religion protected by the Constitution, and not “schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith.” If the Obama administration insisted on enforcing its mandate on Catholic organizations, George concluded, then "two Lents from now” their listing of Catholic hospitals and health-care institutions would be empty.
What would that mean to the U.S., and to Obama's health care reform mandate? Put simply, it would create a disaster for the delivery of health care in the country, and rapidly escalate the public costs of health care.