Air-Conditioned Atheism, the U.S. Bishops, and the HHS Mandate

Archbishop Chaput’s talk at the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life this year is a must-read for anyone concerned with abortion, or with religious freedom. In it, he speaks rather movingly about children with Down Syndrome, and about the increased risk they face of being aborted (a theme I hit on here).  But one of the most jarring things he said was about religious freedom in America:

Catholics need to wake up from the illusion that the America we now live in – not the America of our nostalgia or imagination or best ideals, but the real America we live in here and now – is somehow friendly to our faith. What we’re watching emerge in this country is a new kind of paganism, an atheism with air-conditioning and digital TV. And it is neither tolerant nor morally neutral. […]

My point is this: Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be. And America has no special immunity to becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God.

(h/t Giovanni’s Notizblog).

Two days prior to Chaput’s speech, the intolerance of evil was on full display, when the Department of Health and Human Services mandated that religious charities and hospitals must provide coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion, starting next year:

Birth Control Review (1919)

On Jan. 20 the Department of Health and Human Services finalized a rule requiring “preventive care” insurance coverage for sterilizations and contraception, including the abortifacient drug Ella. While the mandate has a religious exemption, the exemption will not cover many Catholic health care systems, colleges, and charities.

Over one hundred Catholic bishops have published statements objecting to the mandate and asking Catholics to voice their opposition.
The mere fact that over a hundred bishops have already spoken out on this issue should tell you just how severe it is.  Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, describes the situation bluntly:

As you know, the buying of health insurance by every citizen of the USA is now compulsory by federal law.  The same law gives to the Cabinet Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority over all health insurance.  The present Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, a bitter fallen-away Catholic, now requires that all insurance, even when privately issued, must carry coverage for evil and grave sin.  This means that all our Catholic schools, hospitals, social service agencies, and the like will be forced to participate in evil.  The Catholic Church has pleaded with President Obama to rescind this edict, but all pleas have been met with scorn and have fallen on deaf ears.

And Roger Cardinal Mahony, who was perhaps the first to respond, said, “I cannot imagine a more direct and frontal attack on freedom of conscience than this ruling today.

And that’s exactly right.  Regardless of what you think about contraception and abortion, forcing a religious organization to act in opposition to its religion is diabolical, and affront against the First Amendment.  (After all, forcing a Jewish food kitchen to carry bacon is repugnant, regardless of your views on the merits of bacon).
Wojciech Stattler, Maccabees (1842)
Secretary Sebelius, in an act of mockery, said that those who might qualify for a conscientious exemption (almost no one), have one year to comply, but during that year, they must “refer” people to the insurance that covers wicked deads.  We cannot and will not comply with this unjust decree.  Like the martyrs of old, we must be prepared to accept suffering which could include heavy fines and imprisonment.  Our American religious liberty is in grave jeopardy. 
All Catholics are asked to pray and do penance that this matter may be resolved.  All should contact their elected representatives to protest this outrage and to insist on the passage of the “Respect for Conscience” act which is now before Congress.
I note in passing that Sebelius only has the power to do this because of Obamacare. So to those Catholics and pro-lifers who claimed that the law would be fine, now might be a good time to rethink your support.*

*I say this not as a smug “Toldya so,” although I did (and more importantly, the bishops did), but as someone who made the mistake of voting for Sebelius as governor of Kansas back in 2004, deluding myself into thinking that her views on abortion would be irrelevant as governor of a red state. Mea culpa!


  1. Joe:

    You were right about the Affordable Care Act and I was wrong. I was fooled but should not have been. Mea culpa indeed.

    This lifetime Democrat will do everything I can to see Barack Obama voted out of office.

  2. Michael,

    Humble and courageous. Loved that response. I hope that other pro-life Democrats respond the same way, instead of doubling down (as Kmiec seems to have).

    Like I said at the end of my post, I can’t really take a “Toldya so” posture, since I was just as wrong in thinking that Sebelius was harmless. All we can do now is exactly what you’ve said: fight for the Church, and work to remove Obama from office. At this point, nearly anybody would be less dangerous.



  3. According to this site:

    There are 271 Bishops in the USA, and only a little more than 100 of them have spoken out about this HHS fiasco.

    I stand with my Bishops in this mess, (Even though my Bishop didn’t exactly join his brothers in their stand…) but I really think they could be doing a hellava much more (and could’ve done much more leading up to this.).

    St. Stephen was stoned to death. St. Peter was crucified upside-down. St. Paul lost his head. St. Ignatius of Antioch was fed to lions. St. Justin Martyr got his surname from it. Sts. Perpetua and Felicity died to the roar of the crowds. Even St. Maximillian Kolbe was starved by the nazis over a period of two weeks…

    I hate to say it, but we in the western world have it pretty easy in this day and age in the persecution department (*Knock on Wood* — I don’t exactly want to see a serious persecution mind you…).

    If this HHS-thingy is all we get in regards to persecution in our lifetimes, then I think that the Saints who died throughout the centuries for the Faith are laughing hysterically at all of us and I don’t think we’re (the Church in American specifically) doing our jobs…

  4. It was definitely a bold speech by Abp. Chaput, just as it was a bold letter by Bp. Bruskewitz. Plenty more speeches and letters (many of which were read from the pulpits last Sunday) could be added to those ranks. It’s an easy complaint that the bishops don’t take a strong stand on anything, but lately, that characterization hasn’t struck me as true at all. Whether it’s Notre Dame, the passage of the health care bill, or this mandate, I’ve been proud of the bishops.

    Certainly, there are times where the bishops seem to have lacked backbone. But then again, who are we comparing today’s bishops to, anyways? The English bishops at the time of Henry VIII?  The lapsi during the early Church? The Apostles at the Crucifixion? Spinelessness is a constant ill that Catholic bishops suffer from, because it’s a constant ill that fallen man suffers from.

    And Rob, the numbers are actually a bit better than you make them sound. As of Catholic Vote’s latest tally, 138 of the 183 current diocesan bishops have spoken out publicly against this, and four more have statements forthcoming.  That’s about 80% of the diocesan heads.

    The bishops who have been comparatively quieter have been the auxiliary and retired bishops, but that’s not particularly a surprise — they’re less likely to send out press releases and diocesan letters under any circumstances.  I don’t think it means that they’re any less impassioned.

    If nothing else, I can say that for the first time in my life, I’ve heard multiple bishops openly discuss the possibility that they or their immediate successor could be imprisoned, even here in the United States.  So I think that they’re awake to the gravity of what we’re facing, in a way that many lay Catholics aren’t.



  5. Joe, I’m an Evangelical in Canada. What can I do to help? One thing Ontario Catholics are fighting right now is being forced to have gay-straight alliance clubs in their schools. It’s outrageous and they are saying it’s a non-starter. The Catholic schools are preparing for court if need be.
    I’m praying for my Christian brethren and writing my MPP.

  6. Thank you for this post Joe. I’m only 21 years old and I’m not as experienced and knowledgeable as you are about the ongoing political issues in this country, but I’ve been silently reading your blog for the past few months and I’m truly outraged at what is going on in this nation and in the world. I’ve been trying to educate myself on the ongoing issues and so I’ve been reading a lot of articles and Catholic blogs that talk about Obamacare and the latest mandate. Obama is just stepping all over the constitution/bill of rights. I am truly concerned about this country and about us Catholics…I do not know how we can defend ourselves against this except through prayer. How are Catholic schools and hospitals supposed to function when they have to provide evil services that go against their mission and conscience? I’m greatly troubled. I hope we, Catholics, can rise against this ridiculous HHS mandate!

  7. What can we do? Pray. Vote. Get more involved in the political process by demanding more faithful politicians from both parties. Educate the people around us; try to master natural-law arguments so they can understand. Especially vote – if we don’t vote for the candidates we want, we get the politicians we deserve.

    And buckle up, folks, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride for the next few years!

  8. Up to 142 now.

    Here’s the really scary thing: 28 states have identical or worse religious exemptions. (Could someone factcheck that?)

    Wish the bishops were awake back when those were passed, but whaddayagonnado. Maybe taking this all the way to the Supreme Court will finally burst the boil on these other policies.

  9. Rob,even if some American Bishops have not yet come out publicly like the 100+ ones, believe me they are in and “already counted”. After Pope Benedict XVI’s exhortation to all of them was answered by the Obama satanic comments, be assured the entire One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, are in the trenches already…War has been declared on the Catholic Church and we are all Combatants to defend Our Holy Mother….Satan and his High Priests, in the persons of Obama, Biden, that woman Clinton,Sebelius and all those anti-Catholic “Catholics” in the USA Administration, along with the pseudo Catholic Americans, will be crushed. Obama has poked his defiant evil finger in Christ’s Eye…and I hear Him saying….”You are persecuting Me”…but unlike Saul, the whole edifice of Obama will crash. And should,you, Americans make the mistake of re-electing that abomination, America will become history in the not too distant future.

  10. WRA,

    I just did an update post, with more troubling details, but the three things we can do:

    1. Pray.
    2. Fasting and penance.
    3. Contact Congress.

    Since you’re not an American, you’re probably wondering if #2 and #3 apply to you. I think they do — for #2, look no further than Sodom and Gomorrah. For #3, I think at least some members of Congress will care about the fact that this move is making a scandal of the US abroad.

    More information here.


    There’s the very real possibility that Catholic social services will either shut down, or will turn against the Church (as Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois recently did).



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