Three more articles on this important and timely topic:
The first is from Bishop Blase Cupich, writing in wake of the administration's accouncement of an "accommodation" on the contraception mandate first proposed by HHS:
The initial reaction of our USCCB leadership to the president’s remarks has been understandably cautious but optimistic, noting that this development presents an opportunity for dialogue to resolve the impasse. Part of that optimism may stem from what Mr. Obama did not say. It is remarkable that he made no reference to the earlier HHS distinction between “non-profit employers based on religious beliefs” and "religious employers." It seems to have just evaporated. The president only mentioned “religious institutions," univocally including in that term those entities that are “affiliated” with a church “like Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities.” The significance of collapsing the two terms originally distinguished by HHS cannot be overplayed. Although the U.S. Bishops rightly objected to government enforcement of insurance coverage of services and procedures which are morally objectionable, the central issue following January 20, 2012, HHS decision was that the government, heretofore specifically precluded from doing so by the Constitution and over 230 years of Court precedent—would now decide what it means for any church to be church and what defines the permissible exercise of religion. In the end, as a recent America editorial put it, churches would be forced to “to function as a sect, restricted to celebrating its own devotions on the margins of society.”
Clearly, as the USCCB noted, the president’s announcement Friday provides us with an opportunity to resolve the present impasse. But, I believe that an even greater opportunity is before us, namely to have a deeper and on a more prolonged basis a fundamental dialogue about the role of religion in society in general and the nature of religious liberty, especially as it applies to faith-based charitable, health and social service ministries in the United States, in particular. I also believe that the president, relying on his personal experience with church, which he cited once again this week, has not only the potential but also the responsibility to make a significant contribution to this more sustained and expansive discussion.
The next two articles, from Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard University, and David Hollenbach, S.J. and Thomas Shannon, were written before Friday's announcment, but explore the many issues at stake. First, Professor Glendon:
The erosion of conscience protection, in particular, has placed church-affiliated hospitals, schools and social services in a difficult position. In November 2011, Catholic Charities in Illinois decided to dismantle its 90-year-old adoption and foster care programs because it was financially unable to continue its court battle against the state’s insistence that they place children with same-sex couples. Faced with the choice between moral compromise and expensive litigation with uncertain outcome, many institutions have simply retreated from the field. This was the case in 2006 when Catholic Charities in Boston decided to close down its adoption services rather than mount a full-scale challenge to state licensing requirements that do not permit it to operate consistently with Catholic teaching.
No serious person disputes that religious freedom has to be harmonized with other fundamental rights or that it is subject to necessary limitations in the interests of public health and safety. Questions of the legitimate scope and limits of religious liberty are complex and delicate, legally and politically. But religious voices must not be excluded from the processes through which these questions are resolved, and religious freedom must not be demoted from its prominent place among this country’s most cherished freedoms.
Finally, Hollenbach and Shannon look at what Catholic teaching says about balancing the church's rights and the rights of all citizens:
Although the presidential election is 10 months away, some rhetorical fires are already raging. Key issues, as identified by some candidates and by the U.S. Catholic bishops, include abortion, gay marriage and contraception. Rightly or wrongly, many people think no political compromise is possible on these. And in this year’s electoral politics, religious freedom is being invoked in ways that have political implications.
Catholic teaching on religious freedom provides a carefully nuanced framework for considering these debates. One element of the tradition requires respect for the church’s right to play an active role in public life. The Catholic understanding of religious freedom stands in sharp contrast to secularizing approaches to public life and privatistic interpretations of the place of religion. The contrast is particularly evident in the way the U.S. bishops have linked their opposition to same-sex relationships and gay marriage to their exercise of religious freedom. They state that the human rights of all persons must be protected, but that this “should be done without sacrificing the bedrock of society that is marriage and the family and without violating the religious liberty of persons and institutions.” This linkage echoes controversies about whether Catholic institutions can be legally required to provide family health care benefits for the partners of employees in same-sex relationships, provide adoption services to gay couples or fund insurance plans that cover contraception.