"Catholicism teaches that it is a sin to use, provide, or otherwise support contraception."
These words are not from the Catholic Catechism or a sermon by a Catholic bishop. They are excerpted from the preliminary injunction U.S. District Judge Robert H. Cleland issued last month temporarily stopping the Obama administration from forcing a family-owned outdoor-power-equipment company to comply with an Obamacare regulation that requires virtually all health care plans to provide women (but not men) with co-pay-free coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
The judge stated the Catholic teaching on contraception as an undisputed fact of the case. He could have made similar statements about sterilization and abortion.
The Obama administration is not arguing that the Catholic Church does not actually teach that artificial contraception, sterilization and abortion violate the natural law and are intrinsically immoral, and that Catholics cannot be involved in them.
What the Obama administration argues is that it has the authority to tell Americans they can no longer practice Catholicism. What the Obama administration argues is that it can order Catholics to act against their faith.
In the case of Daniel Weingartz v. Sebelius, the administration specifically argues it can order a Catholic business owner to provide his employees with coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs — and thus act against the teachings of his faith on a matter that involves the destruction of innocent human life.
Elsewhere, the administration argues it can order Catholic institutions — such as the University of Notre Dame — to provide its employees and students with coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.
Still elsewhere, by mandating that all individuals must buy government-approved health-care plans (whether through an employer or a government health-insurance exchange), the Obama administration argues that it can order all Catholic laypersons in the United States to act against the teachings of their faith.
The Catholic bishops of the United States have unanimously declared that the Obama administration's contraception-sterilization-abortifacient regulation is "an unjust and illegal mandate" that violates the freedom of conscience not just of Catholic institutions and Catholic business owners, but also of individual Catholic laypersons who do not own businesses or manage Catholic institutions.
The regulation, the bishops said, is a "violation of personal civil rights."
The regulation, they said, creates a class of Americans "with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values. They, too, face a government mandate to aid in providing 'services' contrary to those values — whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees; or as insurers themselves — without even the semblance of an exemption."
How does the Obama administration justify ordering Catholics to act against their faith?
First, it argues that Catholics lose the right to live according to the moral teachings of their church when they start a business. "Weingartz Supply Company is a for-profit, secular employer, and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion," Acting Assistant Attorney General Stuart F. Delery argued in a submission to Judge Cleland.
Well, what about a nonprofit institution such as a Catholic university? What about an individual Catholic layperson? How can the administration justify ordering them to act against their faith? The First Amendment says Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Isn't the administration prohibiting the free exercise of religion when it orders Catholics to act against Catholic teachings?
"The Free Exercise Clause does not prohibit a law that is neutral and generally applicable even if the law prescribes conduct that an individual's religion proscribes," Assistant Attorney General Delery told the court. "The preventive services coverage regulations fall within this rubric because they do not target, or selectively burden, religiously motivated conduct."
In plain English: As the Obama administration interprets the First Amendment, it cannot order only Catholics to pay for the administration of a drug that kills an unborn child, but it can order all Americans — including Catholics — to pay for the administration of a drug that kills an unborn child.
Many bishops have spoken out clearly and courageously against President Obama's attack on religious freedom.
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh wrote in his diocesan newspaper: "The Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, 'To Hell with you!'"
Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who leads the Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services, wrote a letter to be read by chaplains serving Sunday masses attended by U.S. military forces. Obama's mandate, the archbishop said, is "a blow to a freedom that you have fought to defend and for which you have seen your buddies fall in battle."
Broglio and many other bishops declared: "We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law."
In his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II cited St. Thomas Aquinas in explaining the Catholic teaching on unjust laws.
"This is the clear teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who writes that 'human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law," said the pope. "'But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence.'"
"To refuse to take part in committing an injustice is not only a moral duty," said the pope, "it is also a basic human right."
President Obama has launched the greatest attack on religious liberty in the history of the United States. He hopes to divide Catholics from their church and American law from truth and justice.
There is no middle ground here. The church is right, the bishops are right, freedom of conscience is an alienable right, and Obama is more wrong about the meaning of liberty than any American president has ever been.
Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor in chief of CNSnews.com. To find out more about him, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.