There is uproar in the US right now. Political blogger Sheila Liaugminas reports that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the Obama administration has announced that it will be mandatory for all employers to provide their employees with health insurance policies for contraceptive services, including sterilisation and drugs that are abortifacient.
This means that hundreds of religious colleges, hospitals, school and charities will now be required to provide insurance coverage for their employees for practices they believe to be wrong and which are contrary to their beliefs.
The Obama administration refuses to exempt religious institutions from this mandate, only offering a one-year delay in some cases. It could have allowed the traditional exemption clause – a ‘conscience clause’ – for religious organisations but has refused to do so. Catholic relief services and charities alone employ 70,000 people. If Notre Dame University were to drop its insurance coverage for its 5,229 employees the penalty that the HHS would impose would amount to $10 million a year. As Liaugminas points out, the irony is that Kathleen Sebelius, secretary to the HHS, is a Catholic; so is Joe Biden, the Vice-President.
All this, albeit on a much bigger scale, sounds eerily familiar. Remember the fight the Catholic adoption agencies had in this country against same-sex adoption during Tony Blair’s premiership? The agencies either closed down or, more usually, caved in. So what is now happening in America does not come as a surprise. What is surprising though is the size and variety of the protests against the HHS mandate; it has united liberal and conservative Catholics, people of other faiths and people of no faith at all, as they realise that a fundamental tenet of the American constitution – freedom of conscience in religion – is being deliberately overthrown.
Michael Voris of RealCatholicTV.com offers an interesting commentary on this current battle in the US. He asks what has brought about the collapse of more than two hundred years of a Christian moral consensus and gives five reasons:
Conservative Americans have for decades been more concerned with politics and economics rather than with defending fundamental moral values.
From the 1960s onwards the entertainment media, rather than family, school, parish or church, became the arbiter and shaper of public views and attitudes.
The courts and the legal system have gradually reflected the views of the new liberal and secular electorate.
Conservatives tend to comply with the law rather than rebel against it; they obey rather than protest.
Finally, Voris notes, Christians of all denominations have gradually abandoned traditional moral teaching. Contraception has become completely acceptable in the Protestant churches and in the Catholic Church her wise warning about the separation of sex from procreation has been largely ignored by the Catholic faithful. In America we now see the result; what Christians chose to regard simply and casually as a matter of individual choice is now, in the workplace and in the relationship between employer and employee, being forced on them by law.
All this reminds one of an obvious truth: if we are not permanently vigilant in defence of our fundamental beliefs, they will be swept away from under our feet.