Do the right thing

For anyone who knows anyone dealing with unemployment, the loss of jobless benefits just before Christmas was not just grinchy in its timing, but frightening as well.

While the recession may be officially over, there are still millions who are unemployed, underemployed, or who have given up looking for work and are no longer even counted on the jobless rolls.

So I am sympathetic to President Obama when he made his appeal for a bipartisan resolution to restore jobless benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed. However, the president’s appeal only underscores how much his administration has let ideology trump concern for the needy when it isn’t the government handing out the aid, but the Church. Obamacare’s mandate to force religious organizations to provide access to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraception or face obscenely punitive fines will have the consequence — intended or unintended — of consuming resources that would otherwise go to helping the poor.

That was the stark warning of Pittsburgh’s Bishop David Zubik. According to his figures, Catholic Charities in Pittsburgh could potentially lose more than a third of its $10 million annual budget to the fines that the government would impose for not providing such contraceptive services.

“Penalties would be just astronomical,” said Bishop Zubik. “That money would be taken away from people who otherwise are being served.”

The reason: While fines for not providing any health insurance at all are relatively modest — indeed, a bargain for companies not concerned about short-changing their employees — fines for not providing access to contraception are 18 times as high per employee. By any measure this is so disproportionate as to suggest that the motivation is less about the uninsured or the unwanted birth as it is about punishing those who oppose the government’s will on moral grounds, that is, the Church.

For now, federal judges have been more willing than not to issue temporary injunctions barring enforcement of the contraception mandate against religious organizations because of the harm that could result even while these organizations are suing to block the mandate. This decision does not mean that the courts are all accepting the objections raised to the contraception mandate. Nor does it mean that there is no exposure for the organizations that are suing. Should the plaintiffs ultimately lose in the Supreme Court, the fines — totaling in the tens of millions — would likely be retroactive and put at risk the services of hospitals, charities, nursing homes and other organizations.

This is why Bishop Zubik’s warning is so important. The lawsuits are taking place because Catholic organizations believe that the government has no compelling need to compel organizations and business leaders to violate their consciences in this matter. But the government’s willingness to force this issue imperils a vast array of Church services.

In his Jan. 4 address, President Obama said: “For decades, Republicans and Democrats put partisanship and ideology aside to offer some security for job-seekers, even when the unemployment rate was lower than it is today. Instead of punishing families who can least afford it, Republicans should make it their New Year’s resolution to do the right thing, and restore this vital economic security for their constituents right now.”

That’s good advice for the president as well: Americans should challenge the president to “do the right thing” and stop forcing religious organizations to violate their consciences when it comes to the contraception and sterilization mandate.

Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.