Catholics, others rally against contraceptive mandates
At issue is a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate to make religious institutions provide coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion drugs.
Catholic bishops have been most vocal in opposing the rules, but opposition has swelled to other religious groups and institutions who say the mandates violate their members’ First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.
Tuesday’s events were part of the “Fortnight for Freedom” coordinated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Local opposition is being led by the Diocese of La Crosse, whose priests touched on the mandates during Masses this week. The effort was also the focus of La Crosse Bishop William Callahan’s latest column in the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Times.
Demonstrators carrying signs took to the streets in La Crosse on Tuesday before a speech by Hannah Smith, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit law firm that deals exclusively with religious liberty litigation. The group has four lawsuits pending against the HHS mandate.
Addressing a crowd at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Valhalla Hall, Smith, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, cited government mandates like those “that force religious institutions to act contrary to their doctrines” as the first of four main “threats to religious freedom” in the United States her group opposes.
“We have an 18-year record of defending people of all faiths,” Smith said. “We really fundamentally believe at the Becket Fund that we can’t pick and choose which religious beliefs we defend.”
The mandates would force institutions with religious ties — such as hospitals and schools, but not churches themselves — to provide coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion drugs.
Although the mandate includes an exemption for religious employers, Smith argues that it is too narrow in scope. In reality, she said, the exemption will apply only to a very small group of churches and religious orders.
“There are many religious organizations, including schools and colleges and hospitals and charitable organizations, that will fail to meet this definition of religious employer,” Smith said.
To Smith and others in the opposition, it’s a First Amendment issue. [More]