The recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case has been rightly hailed as a victory for freedom of religion. The basis for the decision is grounded in the 1993 Religious Freedom and Restoration Act which was passed on a near-unanimous scale by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Clinton. To hear the strident voices of protest on the part of those opposed to the outcome, one would think that all women were being denied access to both birth control and contraception. Nothing could be further from the truth. The owners of Hobby Lobby, devoutly religious, objected to the mandate imposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a part of the Affordable Care Act. This mandate required all insurance plans to provide free contraception to beneficiaries, numbering some twenty methods in all. The owners of Hobby Lobby objected to four of the twenty methods on the basis that they are in fact abortifacients, that they cause abortions. The owners of Hobby Lobby had no issue with the other sixteen methods mandated.
Some of the harshest criticisms leveled by opponents of the Supreme Court decision were aimed at the fact that all five of the justices who sided with Hobby Lobby and its objections were Catholics. These critiques are in fact a not too veiled attack on Catholics and the Catholic faith in general. In fact, the justices reached their conclusions, we have to believe, on the merits of the case before them as they touched upon the unreasonable burden that the HHS mandate imposes on the religious freedom of those opposed to abortion. No one is being denied access to contraception or abortion. Both can be readily obtained should one desire them. What is being upheld is the right of those who are opposed to abortion to not pay for drugs that cause abortions.
In moral theology, there is a principle called “material cooperation.” This principle holds that even if one does not actually directly perform an act that is contrary to the moral law, should one facilitate such an act by paying for a drug or for someone else to perform it, then one is guilty of violating the moral law. One has cooperated in facilitating the commission of a sin. One is guilty of sin, and in this case, very grave sin. This forms the basis of the objection that the Catholic Church has to the HHS mandate as a whole.
The battle for religious freedom in this country is far from over. Additional cases connected with the HHS mandate are pending. For our part, we must be on guard and we must do whatever we can to maintain our ability to live and practice our faith and its teachings according to our conscience. The government has no right to interfere in the way we live our faith. Our faith is not restricted to the sanctuary on weekends, but it demands that we live by the teachings of Jesus as articulated by the Church for centuries every day, everywhere. Constant vigilance and prayer are required of us all, as is concrete action. Contact your representatives in Congress to tell them you are opposed to the HHS mandate and ask that it be withdrawn. Witness to the Gospel by standing up for what you believe. Engage those who disagree and work to change their minds. Often such people are working and thinking on the basis of incomplete or wrong information. A little knowledge can go a long way.
Rev. Aidan N. Donahue
© 2010 Saint Mary Church, Milford, Connecticut