(Jim Clark) – The front-page media buzz of late has been the give, take and presidential spin over lawyers’ arguments before the US Supreme Court and questions posed by the justices in connection with judicial review of Obamacare. On trial is the Constitutionality of that law’s mandate that every American obtain a policy of health insurance that meets government’s standards.
Because the decision is not expected to be handed down until some time in June, the subject is expected to continue to command media attention, particularly since President Obama is “whistling through the graveyard” by publicly questioning the propriety of the High Court reviewing a law passed by Congress and signed by the President.
All of this is something of a smokescreen emasculating another Constitutional hiccup arising out of the 2,000 page Obamacare law . . . whether the federal government can mandate that faith organizations must engage in acts that are contrary to their historic doctrines. Recently the US Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) issued a regulation pursuant to the Obamacare law requiring that enterprises affiliated with faith organizations must furnish or pay for contraception for their female employees.
Most directly impacted by this regulation is the Roman Catholic Church, which sponsors universities, hospitals, public charities and any number of other enterprises that directly relate to or arise from the tenants of the Church’s teachings.
The resulting hue and cry from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops was so overwhelming that few other voices were heard although the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists and other religious institutions also sponsor hospitals, universities, charities, homes for the elderly, etc. Perhaps they are yet to be heard from.
It is pretty clear that the government can prohibit faith institutions from carrying out practices that constitute crimes or torts under common law. Congregations cannot sacrifice virgins, assault parishioners, smoke peyote or engage in other practices, which the government has a historic duty to prevent.
In some cases, exceptions to general laws are culled out as evidence that government is not hostile towards religion (for example, Nevada law, which prohibits possession of alcoholic beverages by minors exempts “possession for an established religious purpose”).
But can the government force parishioners to commit adultery? To dishonor their father and mother? To covet their neighbor’s ox?
If such hypothetical laws sound ridiculous, how logical is it that the government can force the Roman Catholic Church’s institutions to furnish or pay for items of contraception that church doctrine forbids?
Politically, this is smoldering just below the surface. Diocese of Reno Bishop Randolph Calvo and Diocese of Las Vegas Bishop Joseph Pepe jointly wrote HHS “objecting to a mandate . . . that would force religious organizations to provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and other contraceptives.”
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that this dispute is not about supplying contraception, but about “an unwarranted definition of religion” prohibited by the First Amendment, which provides “Congress shall make no laws respecting the establishment of religion.”
Superimposed on all this is the fact that Catholic voters, who historically trend Democratic, broke Republican by 54 to 44 in the 2010 GOP landslide election, according to Pew Research.
So will the Catholic bishops mount a court challenge to the Constitutionality of the Obamacare Law? Will other Judeo-Christian organizations join them? Will the GOP peel off even more Catholic voters in the 2012 election?
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates and a member of the Washoe County & Nevada State GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com)