WHEREIN DO WE CAPTURE THE CONSCIENCE OF THE KING?
I know, I know, we have no such thing as a “king” in these United States but then Shakespeare had no such thing as a “president” when he was writing plays and sonnets either. So I have inverted titles to make this point: in his famous commencement speech given at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, President Obama said this: “So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.”
We shall soon learn how committed the President is to drafting “a sensible conscience clause” as his administration ponders whether or not, I as an employer, must provide contraceptive opportunities as a part of the health care program which I (the diocese) provide to all our employees. That’s the present assertion of the draft language in a portion of the health care bill which deals with services which must be provided to all employees. The President of Notre Dame University, the same man that President Obama praised for his wisdom and leadership in the same speech quoted above, joined by twenty-eight other college and university presidents has said that to do so would violate his (their) individual as well as institutional consciences. Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. bravely went on to say that unless a conscience clause exempting religious institutions from providing such services was included, then he would cease to provide Notre Dame employees health care coverage and would be forced to remunerate them so that they would have to purchase a health plan individually and on their own, resulting in a loss of services and coverage and an escalation of health care costs. I would do the same here in the diocese. What a sad day that would be.
In the closing days of September, I asked all of y0u to write to Secretary Sibelius and ask her for conscience protection for those of us who hold religious beliefs that may be at variance by the letter or intent of the health care legislation. Although I am sometimes at a loss to completely understand everything about Christian Scientists, they are a Christian Church and they deserve protection for their religious beliefs and I would fight for them as I hope they would fight for us in this regard. Final wording has not yet been forthcoming from the US Department of Health and Human Services but it can not be far away. Then and only then will we be able to capture the conscience of the President and his administration in providing for an religious conscience exemption from requirements that violate people’s moral code and system of beliefs.
Should we be worried? I believe so. I feel the same attack on religious liberty and its exercise in this nation that drove the founders to flee their native lands and establish this government, for the people, by the people and Under God, is suddenly front and center here in my country. Migration and Refugee Services, a division of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been denied a grant from the government because we do not provide contraceptive assistance to the newly arrived whom we have helped resettle with great distinction over decades, especially the Vietnamese following the war. Catholic Relief Services has been told “shape up or ship out” because we do not distribute or advocate condom use in the countries where we serve the poor. Now I must confess that during the administration of President George W. Bush, USAID which is a program of the State Department was at one time going to deny CRS any PEPFAR funds because we did not advocate and teach the use of condoms. Someone woke up and smelled the coffee of the potential risk of failure of the new anti-AIDS retroviral program and made CRS a lead agent in initially nine countries so the pressure is not just a reflection of one party. Catholic Charities in Illinois has been stricken from receiving any state funds for any program because of their conscience belief on gay and lesbian adoptions. What a shame! Today the question is whether those in office now will also “smell the coffee” and allow us the conscience protection so strongly embraced by our nation’s founders. We will see, will we not and only then will be capture the conscience of the king!