Toward the close of last night's vice presidential debate, moderator Martha Raddatz asked the question I was hoping she would: what role both candidates' Catholicism plays in their outlooks on abortion. During Rep. Paul Ryan's answer, he took the opportunity to raise the HHS mandate, a topic on which he has already addressedreligious communities directly. Last night he repeated the problem as clearly as any of us could ask:
"What troubles me more is how this administration has handled all of these issues. Look at what they’re doing through 'Obamacare' with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country. They’re infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals. Our church should not have to sue our federal government to maintain their religious liberties."
"With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution, Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy -- any hospital -- none has to either refer contraception. None has to pay for contraception. None has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact."
Really? Is that why Catholic dioceses, schools and other organizations nationwide are suing the administration? At least one Protestant school has also filed suit, and others may follow as the extended deadline for compliance nears. Surely if this were all a big misunderstanding, someone from the Obama White House would have called a press conference months ago and explained. But as Cardinal Timothy Dolan explained earlier this year, the religious exemption offered already is woefully insufficient, and attempts to dialogue on the issue have proven fruitless:
“We have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with the Congress, and we’ll keep at it, but there’s still no fix. Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.”
As it stands, religiously affiliated hospitals, schools, charities and businesses that don't meet the narrow exemption standard (which is almost none) will have to provide contraceptives, sterilization services, and abortion-inducing drugs within the year. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has made it clear that they will shut down their institutions before complying with such a mandate.
The fact, Mr. Vice President, is that this mandate represents the gravest threat to religious liberty in a generation. And legislative revision, not denial, is the solution.