President Barack Obama may be headed for an election year showdown with America’s Catholic Church leaders, who are demanding that the administration’s healthcare mandate on contraception coverage be repealed rather than softened to accommodate conscience exemptions.
Writing in the Weekly Standard online
, Vincent Phillip Munoz refers to the recent statement by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops calling the mandate requiring church-affiliated organizations to provide employee insurance coverage for contraception an “unjust law” that violates religious freedom.
The statement, Munoz suggests, amounts to a throwing down of the gauntlet, a challenge to the president to push him on the issue.
“In a not-so-subtle manner, the bishops tell the Obama administration that they are willing to go to prison rather than comply with the mandate’s provisions,” writes Munoz, an author and associate professor of law and political science at Notre Dame.
“In doing so, the bishops are ruling out the possibility of a compromise that might preserve the mandate by expanding possible conscience exemptions from it. Most discussion had been over how far the religious liberty exemption should extend — but with the bishops calling for repeal, that all could change.”
According to Munoz, the bishops leave no room for compromise, and, he writes in the Weekly Standard online, all Americans who value religious liberty should be grateful.
“The exemption approach might have allowed the bishops to secure religious liberty for their institutions, but not for all their followers,” he says. “That would have been a failure of moral authority and political strength to protect the common good.
“To their credit, the bishops appear to understand this and are now willing to lead the battle to preserve religious liberty for all, Catholics and non-Catholics, church institutions and private employers,” he continues.
In Munoz’s view, the statement “sets up a dramatic showdown” between Catholic Church leaders and Obama, “a confrontation that may not be good for either side.”
But he says there may be one hope left for avoiding a more damaging clash — intervention by the Supreme Court.
“Striking down the contraception mandate would avert the disastrous situation of the president sending bishops to jail for being faithful witnesses to their religious convictions,” he writes.
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