President as Politician and Priest

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The Fortnight for Freedom may be over, but the fight for religious freedom in this country is not.

While liberals and conservatives alike rush to analyze the Supreme Court's healthcare ruling, the countless charities and religious employers whose fate hung in the balance are now faced with this reality: the HHS Mandate stands.

It's official: religious employers will now be forced, some beginning in just a few short weeks, to include contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs in their healthcare plans, regardless of conscientious objection.

And while the dozens of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the mandate will continue snaking their way through the courts, the American people will not stand by as the freedom our Founders called our "first freedom" is packed down for the government's convenience.

Americans are ever wary of the way our President is attempting to reshape religion in this country.

Though they didn't last week, the Justices have told President Obama to take a foot off the Constitution before. Last fall, the Court issued a monumental decision with the Hosanna-Tabor case, deciding unanimously that the Obama administration was completely out of line in trying to tell a Lutheran church that the government, not the church, had the authority to decide who the church would employ. Two of Obama's own appointees disagreed with his government's position that religious institutions should be treated no differently than any other institution in matters of employment. Justice Kagan actually muttered the word, "amazing," from the bench as the government's lawyer made his case.

And Justice Ginsburg seemed to issue President Obama a crisp little warning when she wrote of the Affordable Healthcare Act, "Other provisions of the Constitution also check congressional overreaching. A mandate to purchase a particular product would be unconstitutional if, for example, the edict impermissibly abridged the freedom of speech, interfered with the free exercise of religion, or infringed on a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause."

The Hosanna-Tabor case and the goliath of a legal mess the HHS mandate has become exemplify a simple reality: we are still dealing with a government that has unabashedly placed itself in the role of both politician and priest. Our president and his bureaucrats are willing to tell Americans what is and is not religious activity and have worked hard to turn conscience rights into the poor Cinderella of human rights in this country.

Many legitimate religious freedom concerns persist, and the Catholic bishops were careful to include these concerns in their religious freedom document, "Our First, Most Cherished Liberty."

Let's not forget that just a few months ago, the Bishops Conference was denied a renewal of its grant for human trafficking work because of their unwillingness on conscience grounds to make abortion referrals.

Let's not forget that Catholic Charities, the largest non-governmental provider of social services to the poor in this country, has been crowded out of the adoption industry in some states because of their insistence on conscience grounds on placing adopted children with families that include and mother and a father.

Let's not forget that grave threats to the religious freedom of healthcare providers persist despite developments with the Health and Human Services mandate. Just a few months ago in Washington State, a family owned pharmacy barely won the right to stay open after the local government tried to close them down for refusing to provide abortion-causing drugs based on their belief that life begins at conception.

Let's not forget amidst the hoopla of the recent healthcare decision that we are dealing with a government that cares little for conscience rights and cares much for its own aggrandizement and agenda. This is a president who replaced "freedom of religion" with "freedom of worship," and when people began to call a spade a spade, he pressed the accelerator, not the brakes.

This is a government that is accelerating right through the first amendment and the recent Court decision clearly won't stop him. The only thing that will is an American public that knows its rights and continues to stand up for our first, most cherished liberty.

And take note: we will.

Ashley E. McGuire is a Senior Fellow with The Catholic Association.

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