An Academic Look at the HHS Mandate

Political Science Professors Consider Broader Implications

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By Ann Schneible

WASHINGTON D.C., MARCH 14, 2012 ( Under the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services Mandate, Catholic institutions throughout the United States are facing the possibility of having to either fund medical procedures which go against fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church, or pay a substantial fine.

ZENIT recently spoke with Professor William R. Luckey and Professor Bernard Way, both professors of Political Science at Christendom College, about the broader implications of the HHS Mandate. Last month, the liberal arts college, located in Front Royal, Virginia, joined a growing number of Catholic institutions speaking out against the HHS Mandate.

What the HHS Mandate means for Catholic institutions

Luckey, professor and chairman of the department of political science and economics at Christendom College, spoke about how the Obama administration’s attempts to appease the Catholic Church have yet to offer sufficient exemptions to protect Catholic employers from being forced, by law, to violate their consciences.

«The original HHS Mandate,» Luckey explained, «was that all institutions that have health insurance had to provide in that health insurance access to birth control and sterilization procedures. And of course, that would also include abortifacient pills.”

«The original outcry by the bishops and others,» Luckey continued, «was that you can’t force us Catholic institutions to do this because it goes against our beliefs and our conscience. [The Obama Administration] relented and said: alright, you don’t have to do that, but you’re required that your insurers do… The problem with that, of course, is that (a) we’re still paying the premiums for that, which we don’t want to pay for, and (b) some Catholic institutions are self-insured… They would have to be paying for this anyway, which is against their conscience.»

Religious freedom

Due to the requirements that the HHS Mandate imposes on Catholic institutions, the Obama administration has been widely criticized over the question of religious freedom. «The real issue in political life,» explained Luckey, «is not contraception: it’s the First Amendment. That’s the real issue because the Constitution says that there’s not going to be a national religion. […] But it also says, ‘Congress shall make no law restricting the freedom of religion.'»

The federal government’s attempt to involve itself in the religious beliefs of people, explains Professor Way, associate professor of political science, goes against the Constitution in a very fundamental way. «On the surface,» Way said, «the biggest issue has to do with First Amendment concerns, and freedom of religion. No religious institution should be forced by the government to do anything against their conscience or their beliefs. […] People, and other associations in society, should be left free, especially on matters of conscience, which the founders always understood was a matter of religion.»

What Catholics can do

There are many avenues that can be taken by Catholics and Catholic institutions to put pressure on the Obama administration to lift the requirements:

«First and foremost,» proposed Way, «[Catholics] need to put enormous pressure on the Congress, Congressmen, and their Senators. Because obviously this is an act by the Federal Government, and Congress does have oversight authority. They need to put the heat; they can put a campaign up, mobilize the grass roots.»

«The other thing that can be done, «he continued, «is put pressure on your State representatives to nullify the application of any Federal edict as being unconstitutional… The States do have the right to declare null and void any laws that are unconstitutional. This certainly was in the constitution itself, and it was in the ratification debates. New York, Virginia, Massachusetts all included that in their language: that if the Federal government does something unconstitutional, [they say], we’re not going to apply it in our States.»

In addition to putting pressure on government leaders, institutions themselves can take concrete action. «I think that we’re going to have to say publically to Obama,» explained Luckey, «that we are not cooperating, we’re not paying the fines, because we didn’t do anything wrong. [The Obama administration’s] the one that’s doing this wrong. Big schools like Notre Dame might be hit by a million dollar fine. Let it hit them! Go ahead! And we’ll bring this to court, and we’ll drag this on for years and years.»

«Then the other thing we can do, of course, is court cases. Already, EWTN is suing… I think all Catholic institutions should join in a gigantic class action lawsuit and sue, and they can muster all their resources, they can get the best lawyers in the country, and just go for it.» 

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