M.D. Harmon: A battle for the future of freedom


Those of us in the opinionating business are often accused (not always incorrectly) of overselling the usual twists and turns of politics by uniformly describing them as world-shaking events that will produce utterly shattering ill effects unless they are countered, rejected or overturned.

Well, Obamacare, conservatives’ shorthand name for the administration’s massive rewrite of the U.S. health care system, really is one of those future-altering events, and people who pay attention to politics on all sides of the spectrum know it, even if those who favor it tend to downplay the changes it will bring.

We’ve been finding out over the past few weeks that President Obama and his minions (no, not those little yellow guys with goggles, but serious, hard-line leftists) are trying to negate our basic constitutional right of freedom of religion.

And that’s why there are very good reasons for people who, like myself, are not Roman Catholics, nevertheless to support that church and its leaders in their current fight to overturn President Obama’s straight-from-the-throne-room decision to make all health insurance policies cover all forms of birth control, including those that induce chemical abortions.

Despite the arguments of the administration and its ideological flunkies in the media and political pressure groups, this is not an argument about whether or not women should have access to contraceptives. They do, and will, under any conceivable future circumstances.

The issue is whether all health insurance plans should cover such medications, despite the views of some groups, including but not limited to the Catholic Church and its allied institutions, that those pills and devices violate those groups’ moral views and, in some cases, result in the destruction of fully human embryos.

Many Americans have been led by some in the media to think this controversy is over just because the administration says it is. They are almost certainly wrong, as the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, which is unanimous in its opposition to this case, is showing no signs of backing down.

That may come as a surprise to those who believe everything they read in the newspapers and see on the evening news, but this dispute could affect $100 billion of health care spending in the United States.

It also has serious implications for the future of freedom: Will the protections provided by the Bill of Rights for religious liberties continue to be respected, or will essential freedoms be subsumed in the ever-growing power of government to decide that a secular worldview is the only one permitted to be exercised outside the doors of houses of worship?

Bare in mind, that’s what Obama and his followers want, and the Catholics’ fight against it is a fight that involves every freedom-loving American. If Obama wins this battle, there will be more to come, and more and more of us will find our freedoms vanishing into the government’s devouring maw.

First, the direct impact: What happens to health care in the United States if the bishops aren’t bluffing?

Under the headline, “Obama risks $100 billion if Catholic hospitals close,” a Fiscal Times columnist, Ed Morrissey, noted that on March 1 that Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George had sent a message to parishioners saying “the Catholic Church would shut down its various institutions in the community” before violating the core doctrines of the faith.

Cardinal George said the church is fighting for “the separation of church and state, and that the mandate represents an unprecedented arrogance in Obama’s attempt to have government define the boundaries between faith and works.”

What would it mean if the rejection spread nationwide, involving hospitals, clinics, mental health facilities and other medical charities operated by the church? Simply put, the paper reported, “It would create a disaster for the delivery of health care in the country, and rapidly escalate the public costs of health care.”

That’s because “the Catholic Church has perhaps the most extensive private health-care system in the country.” It operates 12.6 percent of U.S. hospitals and other facilities, representing 120,000 beds. They account for 15.6 percent of total admissions and 14.5 percent of expenses, totaling $98.6 billion in 2010. That includes 16.6 percent of Medicare discharges, and 13.7 percent of Medicaid ones, meaning one in every six elderly or disabled patients get their care at Catholic institutions.

There are also 400-plus health centers and 1,500 specialized homes, which will be difficult if not impossible to replace.

This is what Obama’s “arrogance” has put at risk. True, some will say the Catholics would be irresponsible to shut them down over this, but the second point worth making here is that those voices forget that essential liberty cannot be compromised without being lost.

Catholics and other religious groups serve people as part of the dictates of their faith, which they do not compartmentalize. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, to most believers.

But if they have to abandon one essential part of their faith to fulfill another part, what’s the point? Both parts are, after all, essential, and giving up on one of them is giving up on all of them.

By a narrow majority, Americans appear to agree. A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted March 7-11 on Obama’s mandate indicated that 51 percent of 1,000 respondents said “there should be an exception for employers who may have a moral or religious objection to covering birth control for their employees.”

However, believers may not think this is an issue that can be resolved by majority vote.

We live in a culture divided by two worldviews, as author and legal scholar James Kalb pointed out in a recent essay in the online journal, Catholic World Report.

One holds to what he calls “the sovereignty of human choice,” the freedom to pick what is real and meaningful for ourselves, while others believe in “the sovereignty of truth,” the idea that there is a higher moral authority who has given us freedom in order that we may choose what is best for ourselves and others, not merely what is pleasing to us at the present moment.

Which one will prevail? That question has both temporal and eternal aspects, believers would say, and therefore to them it has already been decided, no matter what happens in any given political situation.

But for those living in the midst of the current debate, the conflict still rages — and, no matter what we are told, it has not yet been decided.

NOTE: Readers interested in supporting the First Amendment side of this issue should know there are plans for a rally at noon on Friday, March 23, outside the U.S. Courthouse on Federal Street in Portland in support of the right of religious people not to be coerced to violate the long-standing tenets of their faith.

Portland is one of more than 100 cities where such “Rallies for Religious Freedom” are planned for that time. More information is available at standupforreligiousfreedom.com.

M.D. Harmon is a freelance writer who is a retired journalist and military officer. He can be contacted at mdharmoncol@yahoo.com.