In its failure to allow for religious freedom, the Obama administration has abandoned the long-standing American tradition of protecting the consciences of religious citizens, said John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America.
In a Feb. 19 article in the Chicago Tribune, Garvey attributed “the recent indifference to religious scruples” to a reliance upon administrative agencies rather than the normal political process.
He explained that the American founders entrusted religious freedom, which they greatly cherished, to a political process involving the interaction of multiple governmental bodies.
In a “heavily regulated” society such as America, he said, there is a need for religious exemptions to protect the religious freedom of those who object to certain regulations.
From the beginning, he said, America has respected the religious beliefs of various groups, including the Quakers, who have conscientious objections to war; the Amish, who do not pay Social Security taxes because their religion requires them to care for their own sick and elderly; and the Jews, who are exempt “from military rules that forbid non-uniform head coverings.”
“What a difference we have seen in the last year,” he said, listing a number of recent examples in which the Obama administration has failed to allow religious groups to freely practice their beliefs, including the recent HHS mandate.
Several months earlier, the department had announced that it would no longer give funds to aid victims of human trafficking to the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services because the group would not provide or refer for abortions.
Garvey also highlighted the Department of Justice’s brief in the Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC Supreme Court case, in which the government argued that religious groups should not be exempt from employment-discrimination laws in hiring religion. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected the department’s argument in its recent Hosanna-Tabor case.
The CUA president said that while religious freedom was entrusted by the American founders to “the political process,” the recent denials of such freedom have not gone through that political process. Instead, they have come through administrative agencies “controlled or strongly influenced by President Barack Obama.”
It is unlikely that Congress would have garnered the 218 House votes and the 51 Senate votes necessary to pass the recent contraception mandate as a law, he said.
On the other hand, Garvey observed, the Department of Health and Human Services “does not need to hold a vote when it wants to make a rule.” Therefore, it is more “nimble” and “responsive” to the agenda of the party that holds the presidency.
But, Garvey noted, these administrative agencies can ultimately be controlled by the people’s choice of whether or not to re-elect the president whose polices are being implemented.
“People who care about religious freedom are understandably upset about the recent abandonment of the American tradition of conscience protection,” he said.
He warned that current administration’s “apparent lack of concern for that value” will likely play an important role in the upcoming presidential election.