They knew that religion and political power had to be kept separate because putting them together has repeatedly caused societies to destroy themselves.
James Madison – author of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom to worship – knew that. So did Thomas Jefferson, who wrote of a “wall of separation between church and state.”
They knew their history, and they understood human nature.
But President Obama seems to lack the respect and sensitivity that Madison and Jefferson had for this subject.
Imbedded in the Affordable Care Act, the formal name of the health-care law pushed by the president, is a requirement for employers that provide health insurance to their employees to obtain sterilization procedures and access to drugs for family planning – including birth-control pills and pharmaceuticals that induce abortion. The law also requires that these drugs be made available to employees with no co-pay.
For many people in this country, that’s not a problem.
For Roman Catholics, it is a problem – a big one. Although many American Catholics treat this as a matter of personal conscience, church doctrine holds that practicing Catholics risk serious sin if they use such drugs.
In Cincinnati, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr issued a letter calling the Obama administration’s actions a “severe assault on religious liberty.” The Jan. 26 letter was read to parishioners at Mass throughout the region, and other Catholic bishops sent out similar ones.
“I write to you concerning an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly, and that strikes at the Fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith,” Schnurr’s letter said.
“The federal government, which claims to be ‘of, by, and for the people,’ has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people – the Catholic population – and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful,” the letter said.
Other religions – but not all – feel the same way.
Some of these religions run schools, hospitals, shelters, and other operations to carry out good works.
Under the new health-care law, these religious institutions would be forced to provide free access for their employees to sterilization procedures, birth-control pills, and abortion-inducing drugs. The cost would be picked up by the religious institution and its insurance company.
Two small church-affiliated colleges, Colorado Christian University and Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, have decided to fight back. They are taking the federal government to court.
Colorado Christian University, a school of about 950 students, objects to providing pharmaceuticals that induce abortions.
Belmont Abbey College, which has about 1,600 students, is a Catholic school – and the Catholic church does not allow its institutions to take part in distributing pills that prevent pregnancy or cause abortion.
The fines for refusing to surrender to the federal government’s power grab would be substantial: $300,000 against Belmont Abbey, and $500,000 against Colorado Christian, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Those fines are just for the first year. They would go up every year after that.
By the time this is done, the fight will have involved all three branches of the federal government, including Congress – where some of my colleagues and I are already working on legislation to block the Obama administration’s effort.
We must win this fight. Our religious liberties are at risk.
Jean Schmidt is the U.S. Congresswoman serving Ohio’s Second District.