American Catholic: Now an oxymoron?

I am Catholic. I am American. These two central elements of my life should not be in conflict. However, the Obamacare Health and Human Services mandate threatens to force me to violate my Catholic Faith because I am an American citizen.

How? The HHS mandate requires all Americans to have health insurance plans that include coverage for abortion, sterilization, and abortion-causing birth control. As a Catholic who seeks to live in accord with my faith and the teachings of the Catholic Church, I believe that abortion and other anti-life measures are wrong. Many other Christians also believe as I do. However, any American who objects to paying for insurance that includes abortion will be forced to comply or be penalized.

As of January 1, 2014, individuals who do not conform to the insurance mandate will have to pay fines that exceed the cost of buying the insurance. If business owners leave even one required portion of coverage out of their insurance plan, they must pay a penalty of $100.00 per employee per day.

Let’s think about that in specific terms. A small company has 50 employees. For the owners to run their business according to their firmly held religious beliefs, they will be fined almost $2 million. Every year! Remember, this company has only 50 employees—how much annual profit do you think such a small company even makes?

Does the government really want to communicate to the world that, in America, we Christians must pay a monetary price in order to live according to our faith?

For-profit companies are not the only ones faced with this threat. Non-profit organizations are also subject to the HHS mandate—non-profits such as the myriad Catholic organizations that fill many needs of American society. Thousands of Catholic schools offer quality education for our children, saving the government millions of dollars each year. Hundreds of Catholic hospitals provide medical care for the sick and dying. I can hardly begin to imagine the negative consequences that our country will face if these organizations are all forced to shut down because they cannot afford to pay millions of dollars of fines to the government each year.

I am not the only one who is troubled by this matter. Many Americans who, like me, oppose the mandate because of its violation of conscience rights and religious liberty, have brought this critical issue to the courts. 87 lawsuits have been filed against the government. Over 200 plaintiffs from both for-profit and non-profit organizations – businesses, ministries, hospitals, universities, and even individuals – are speaking out against the HHS mandate.

Thankfully, the courts have begun to recognize that the HHS mandate shackles and burdens religious liberty. 33 plaintiffs in these cases have secured injunctive relief against the mandate, which means that they do not have to comply with the mandate while their cases proceed in court.

On November 21st, U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab of Pennsylvania granted injunctions to the Catholic dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie. The judge stated in his ruling that the HHS mandate substantially burdens their ability to exercise their religion because it, “in effect, causes these Plaintiffs to comply with the contraceptive mandate which violates their sincerely-held religious beliefs – that ‘the sanctity of human life which begins at conception,’ and ‘facilitation of evil is the same as proliferation of evil’.”

As of November 26th, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two appeals of cases challenging the HHS mandate: Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood.

When the government tells Christian business owners and non-profit leaders that they must ignore their consciences to comply with a government mandate, it has dangerously encroached upon our great American trademark as “land of the free and home of the brave.”

What is the solution? The government should provide an exemption for people of faith. We are allowed to choose whether or not to include dental care or elective plastic surgery as part of our health insurance plan. So, too, we should be allowed to opt out of abortion and birth control coverage.

As a Catholic, I sincerely hope that the U.S. Supreme Court with rule in favor of religious liberty. And as an American, I hope that my pride in our country’s freedom won’t be trampled.

Sarah Halbur is executive assistant for the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm that is prosecuting five cases against the HHS mandate. This article represents Ms. Halbur’s personal views.