Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Ugly Assumptions Behind the HHS Mandate

A hospital in 13th century Spain. During the Middle Ages, every single hospital in Europe was maintained by the Catholic Church
 The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has one word for the assumptions behind the Obama administration's HHS mandate: ugly. An April 12, 2012 statement at their blog counts them down:
There's the assertion/assumption that, in order to be a participant in the public square, it's somehow necessary for a group or entity to buy into certain cultural values. This is evident in the Catholic Charities cases: "If you want to provide adoption services, you have to buy into our views of marriage and family." It's evident in the bishops' own Migration and Refugee Services losing human trafficking contracts with the government: "If you want to do this good work, you must provide and/or refer for abortions and contraceptives." It's on display in the HHS mandate: "If you want to serve the common good and have employee health plans..." And so on.
There's the assumption that the government can suddenly dictate what's religious and what is not. In the HHS mandate, churches and houses of worship are exempt, but religiously-affiliated organizations that serve the common good, like hospitals, universities, charities and other social services, are not. Does the government view these organizations as somehow less religious because they specialize in service rather than worship? Catholics know that the Gospel mandate to serve those in need is as much a part of being Catholic as going to Mass.
Related to this is the idea that freedom of religion merely means "freedom of worship." Again, the bishops would view that as a pretty anemic definition of religion. In their new statement, they write, "Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith?"

One final, particularly smug and ugly assumption is the cultural dismissal of the importance of the work of the Church and religion in general. "Catholic Charities won't comply with the new marriage law? Fine. Who needs 'em?" "The Church won't provide abortions and sterilizations at their hospitals? Fine. Give us the keys."
It takes a special kind of nerve to be cavalier about the societal contributions of an institution that provided food services to 7,146,490 people in 2010 alone, to say nothing of the housing-related services to 497,732 people, counseling services to 405,848 people, immigration services to 323,312 people, addiction services to 81,866 people, pregnancy services to 93,542 people and adoption services to 38,829 people. (Source: Catholic Charities USA)

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