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By Geoffrey Surtees1329156727000

Last Friday, reacting to the overwhelming groundswell in opposition to a federal regulation mandating religious institutions to provide insurance coverage for abortion-causing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilizations, the President announced the administration would now accommodate these groups. 

How so?  In the President’s words, “employers will not have to pay for, or provide, contraceptive services…”  Instead, “the insurance company -- not the hospital, not the charity -- will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.”

While at first blush the President seems to have resolved the civil rights crisis his own administration created, a closer look at the alleged accommodation demonstrates that it is nothing more than a shell game, an empty façade.  Potemkin would be proud. Not only do religious institutions remain in the same quandary as before, other groups remain without any protections whatever.

Before the President’s announcement, it was the intention of the administration to force religious groups to purchase health insurance that provided contraceptive services free of charge.  Now it is the intention to require religious groups to purchase health insurance from a carrier that will provide contraceptive services free of charge.  The coverage would be provided as a part of the employer’s policy, not as a separate rider. What’s the difference?  For all intents and purposes: none.  If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . .  And this duck, as far as conscience rights are concerned, is a dead one.

Everyone but the self-deluded knows that insurance companies are not going to offer these products and services gratis.  They will seek to recoup their cost through higher premiums, paid at least in part by the very religious institutions that object to paying for such services in the first place.  And even if insurance companies could provide these drugs cost free, as the administration prays will be the case, this does nothing for the right of religious groups to contract only with carriers that refuse to offer such services (who, by the way, have no conscience protections under the President’s plan).  It does nothing for the right of religious groups to refuse to participate, to any degree or in any fashion, in a system they believe undermines the sanctity of life and the dignity of the family.

One might claim that because the so-called accommodation allegedly funds these objectionable services in a more remote, indirect way, religious groups should be comforted.  They can now, in good conscience, provide health insurance to their employees without directly paying for the services to which they object.  In addition to the fact that President’s plan is a shell game and nothing more, there’s an additional problem: it is simply not the business of government to dictate the shape of anyone’s religious conscience.  A religious conscience is shaped by one’s religious beliefs and traditions, based on an understanding of sacred texts and any religious authority.  Laws and public customs can act as supports for the dictates of conscience, but they cannot and should not supplant it.  Any religious institution that cannot subscribe in good conscience to the President’s accounting scam should not be forced to comply. 

The firestorm of recent weeks has focused on the right of religious institutions to follow their own religious beliefs and practices.  While the President is pretending he has now accommodated these groups, there’s no pretending that others have been left out to dry.  

Religious institutions that self-insure? Under the President’s plan, no protection.

Private business owners who object on religious grounds to providing insurance coverage for abortion causing drugs?  No protection.

Religious insurance agencies that object to issuing policies covering contraceptive services?  No protection.

Those who object to providing such services not on religious grounds, but moral ones?  No protection.

The President last week did not offer any genuine accommodation of the rights of conscience.  He gave us smoke and mirrors.  If the “the principle of religious liberty” is “an inalienable right enshrined in our Constitution,” as the President acknowledged on Friday, why is he seeking to alienate it?  If “local churches often [do] more good for a community than a government program ever could,” as the President also acknowledged, why is he seeking to squelch the lifeblood of religious groups in the name of a government program?

Those who oppose the President’s alleged accommodation are not being unreasonable or recalcitrant.  Constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms are non-negotiable; they are not bargaining chips.  Once we say we are willing to compromise civil rights, then we have lost all civil rights.  Once we say we are willing to compromise on conscience, then we have lost all semblance of conscience.

This issue is not about access to family planning services, try as the President might to spin it that way.  It is about preserving and protecting those unalienable rights that the Founders mutually pledged to support with their Lives, their Fortunes, and their sacred Honor.

We must be willing to do the same.

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