Aligning with Catholic identity: An embrace or artful strategic communications and public relations?
With the 2012 election year well underway, the Obama administration’s intransigence concerning healthcare entitlements as these impact religious institutions, in general, and Catholic hospitals and educational institutions, in particular, continues to boil on the backburner.
At issue are some of the regulations concerning the implementation of the 2009 Obamacare law issued by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, and scheduled to take effect on August 1, 2012. Especially disconcerting for the U.S. Catholic Church is the particular regulation requiring new insurance plans for women to cover all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration with no co-pays or other cost sharing.
While the regulation provides an exemption for some religious employers, it is not broad enough to cover Roman Catholic and some Protestant institutions. And even though religious organizations can be exempted from the regulation, the organization’s purpose must be to inculcate religious values, it must primarily employ and serve people holding the same religious beliefs, and be considered a nonprofit organization under provisions of the tax code that cover churches and religious orders. Furthermore, the exemption applies only to employer-sponsored health coverage, not the individual plans that some colleges and universities offer to students.
Commenting on this regulation last October 5, the Chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, said:
The HHS’s “religious employer exemption” is so extremely narrow that it protects almost no one. Jesus himself, or the Good Samaritan of his famous parable, would not qualify as “religious enough” for the exemption, since they insisted on helping people who did not share their view of God.
The reason this issue continues to boil on the backburner during this election year is that the nation’s Catholic colleges and universities may have awakened from their sleepy “catholic” identity to protest that, as Catholic institutions of higher education, they would be required to offer health insurance that covers those contraceptives and abortofacients despite the fact that Church teaching is opposed to them.
In November, 2011, Belmont Abbey College filed a lawsuit, seeking an injunction to keep the federal government from implementing the regulation.
The President of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, Michael Galligan-Stierle, said: “Conscience is now moved to the margins and is no longer protected.”
And, in a letter to HHS Secretary Sebelius, to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the University of Notre Dame’s President, Reverend John Jenkins, CSC, wrote:
It is an impossible position. This would compel Notre Dame to either pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the church’s moral teaching, or to discontinue our employee and student health care plans in violation of the church’s social teaching.
In contrast, the Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Reverend Barry Lynn, believes a broader exemption is not only unnecessary but also unconstitutional. Lynn is of the opinion that since Christian and Catholic colleges and universities accept federal money in the form of loans and grants, they should then be required to play by the government’s rules. In an interview with Inside Higher Education, he said:
Denying contraceptive coverage to students because of religious belief isn’t an issue of freedom of religion. That seems wildly broad, painfully at odds with the reality of good health care in America, and utterly unnecessary under the Constitution. What’s not sensible is declaring that every belief you have needs to trump the generally applicable rules.
So, what has all of this to do with the 2012 elections?
The Motley Monk wouldn’t at all be surprised to discover that President Obama is waiting to see what his polling numbers look like come late Spring 2012. If the President needs “the Catholic vote” (The Motley Monk disputes that such a monolith exists today), then the President’s minions at his Chicago election headquarters and White House policy operations office will figure out a way to “thread the needle.”
Some type of exemption that satisfies both pro-life and pro-abortion advocates.
Perhaps the good news is that at least some leaders of U.S. Catholic higher education are aligning themselves in public with Church teaching. Or, might it be good strategic communications and public relations on their part, meaning that this is an artful way of seizing the argument and appealing to Catholic parents that the tuition they must pay for an undergraduate education at their institutions is worth the cost?
The Motley Monk thinks it likely that it’s a bit of both.