The Height of Injustice: the HHS Mandate

This article is the first of four in a series about individual employers and the HHS Mandate. You may find the second article herethe third article here, and the fourth article here.

The United States has a problem when Australian George Cardinal Pell delivers a speech on his continent that uses the goings on in our country as the prime example of the attack of secularism on religion. Speaking of the Affordable Care Act and in particular the HHS mandate, Pell said, “This is a flagrant attempt to use the power of the government to impose a set of beliefs on communities and individuals who hold very different beliefs, and to restrict them from upholding and acting on what they believe.”

Unsavory elements of the Affordable Care Act have immersed Catholics and others of good will in a fight that we did not ask for and would rather not be in. “But,” Cardinal Dolan has noted, “it’s certainly one that we won’t run from.” The Catholic Church, apostolates that flow from the Church’s mission of service, and Catholic men and women working in the secular world have been placed in the position of having to choose to provide for the healthcare needs of employees and their families or cooperate in the provision of what we know to be intrinsic evils. Many have already accepted the status quo and go about their lives causing no waves and taking for granted the religious liberty that has increasingly been eroded under the law. In this day and age, however, such silent compliance causes scandal and harms the common good.

The difficulty arises from the fact that the “Final Accommodation” for the HHS Mandate from June 28 still suffers from 3 main problems related to the forced provision of contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. It

  • Narrowly defines religious employers so that only houses of worship are exempt, but ministries of service are not
  • Treats ministries of service as 2nd class citizens – the accommodation does not relieve them from providing plans that sponsor abortion and contraception
  • Denies any relief for for-profit business run by faithful Christians

Further, almost every healthcare plan offered by the state exchanges in the majority of states in our nation have an “abortion surcharge” that is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid.

Let us be clear: the Catholic Christian has no choice – We must oppose these elements of the law and seek their repeal. In doing so we join the Bishops of the United States who recently spoke to Catholics in the Unites States through Cardinal Dolan: “At the Administrative Committee meeting, the members were unanimous in their resolve to continue our struggle against the HHS Mandate, and they asked me to convey that firm resolve to you. If there’s any perception that our dedication to this fight is flagging, that’s dead wrong.” It is a non-negotiable for Catholics that we have an obligation to protest and fight the mandate. This remains.

As we do so we recognize that in all facets of life to some degree or another it is inevitable that we cooperate with evil. This is no excuse to cooperate immorally in evil acts. As Christians we need to mitigate our cooperation with evil, avoid it wherever reasonable, and refuse to cooperate with evil in a way that is immoral. The question becomes, therefore, whether or not a particular instance of cooperation with evil is licit or illicit. This important and traditional principle of Catholic moral teaching and how it informs our discernment regarding cooperation with the Affordable Care Act will be explored in great depth by faithful authors in three forthcoming articles on the Truth and Charity Forum. This series will specifically explore the options before secular employers responsible for making decisions regarding healthcare coverage.

The series does not address what Catholic institutions should do in the face of the Affordable Care Act. This is a different question to be answered by each bishop and the bishops of the United States as a body.

Basic human rights and the common good are at stake and many are facing this reality head-on. For-profit organizations and the individuals who own them or work for them are being forced to make what is a very difficult choice – 1) refuse to comply, 2) comply under protest, 3) find a creative alternative for healthcare coverage, or 4) close the business or organization. Each of these options we have in the face of an unjust law are, in some way, less than ideal. Each organization will have to discern the most prudent course of action and each family will have to discern the most prudent route for their family.

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We are painfully aware of the cultural milieu in which these decisions are being made. The secular ideology increasingly restricts and burdens our exercise of religious liberty. It is increasingly common for people to be penalized, fined, or dismissed from jobs, excluded from providing services such as counseling or medical care to women. Christians and their companies are dragged through human rights and anti-discrimination tribunals simply for living, believing or expressing their religious beliefs. What Cardinal Pell has described as “Salami tactic” has been employed – slice by slice our liberty is taken from us by a lawsuit here, anti-discrimination law there, a court decision here, and a blatant threat there. Neither the butcher, the baker, nor the candlestick maker are exempt – religious beliefs will not be tolerated in the public square and the provision of services or products in the secular world. Compliance must be enforced in the name of the immoral objectives of the dictatorship of relativism. When will it end?

This is the sobering milieu in which employers and employees in for-profit secular organizations must consider how to best respond to the most egregious elements of the Affordable Care Act.

We face difficult decisions in the face of an unjust law that each Catholic is obliged to oppose. The decisions are not to be made lightly. You are invited to join us in thinking through this quandary in this upcoming series, and to share your own thoughts in the comments section of each article.


Arland K. Nichols served as HLI’s director of education and evangelization and executive editor of the Truth and Charity Forum until February 2014. He is currently president of the John Paul II Foundation in Texas, where he resides with his family.    
Articles by Arland: