Jewish Community Should Join Catholics Against the Mandate

Opinion   |   Bethany Mandel   |   Feb 20, 2012   |   1:06PM   |   Washington, DC

Initially, after the HHS mandate for employers to provide birth control for its employees was announced, the religious right flank of the Jewish community, the Orthodox Union (OU), came out strongly against the decision.  In the New York Times, the executive director of public policy for the OU Nathan Diament explained:

Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary [says] religious entities that “serve the general public and employ people of different faiths” should not receive the same religious liberty protections as, for example, a church or a synagogue. Such reasoning is wrongheaded.

For many people of diverse faiths, religious observance is not to be confined to the sanctuary. For many, faith compels engagement with the broader world and service to our fellow man, especially those in need. To say the government will afford religious liberty only to the most insular of religious institutions but not to those that serve, or employ, people of other faiths is a troubling view of faith and what role it should play in America.

If you read the statement closely, however, the OU appears to have more problem with Catholic groups’ non-classification as religious organizations verses the government’s mandate that they provide a service explicitly against their religion. After the president’s “compromise” (which Rep. Paul Ryan called merely an accounting trick) the OU changed its tune after meetings with the White House to craft the revisions, issuing a new press release stating it,

welcomed President Obama’s announcement that he is revising the regulation announced on January 20 by the Dept. of Health and Human Services in re: employers’ health insurance plans and religiously affiliated institutions.

The Orthodox Union criticized the previous regulation as being harmful to religious liberty and disturbingly defining religious entities that serve or employ people of other faith as undeserving of religious liberty protection.

Under the revised rule, no nonprofit, religious institutional employer that objects to providing contraceptives and sterilization services will have to pay for or provide coverage for it.

The left flank of the Jewish community, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC),  also released a statement supporting the president’s “compromise,” and never released a statement on its position when the controversy first erupted. The director of the RAC, Rabbi David Saperstein, has a strong relationship with the Obama White House and personally consulted on the mandate throughout the process.

The Catholic Church is not fooled by the president’s “compromise” which requires insurance companies to provide the birth control verses the employers themselves. Under the “compromise,” the Catholic Church and its affiliates will still be paying the insurance company premiums and from those premiums Catholic employees will receive birth control from their employer-provided insurance. Today, LifeNews reported that every Catholic bishop in the United States opposes the mandate and yesterday, as Jonathan mentioned, Bishop William E. Lori spoke on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops against the mandate at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

At the hearing, Bishop Lori compared the Church’s requirement to provide birth control to a kosher deli’s requirement to serve pork. Jonathan quoted the statement in full, and his post is a must-read. Many have scoffed at the comparison, and a more apt one may have been, “What if the government decides to outlaw the ‘barbaric’ practice of circumcision?” Unfortunately, it’s a comparison that may hit too close to home for many Jews (and Muslims), especially residents of San Francisco. Last year, the city came frighteningly close to outlawing a basic ritual central to both Abrahamic faiths. When that occurred the (notoriously left-wing) Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco released a statement opposing the circumcision ban, calling it “an unconscionable violation of the sanctuaries of faith and family.” The Catholic Church understood this attack on Jewish and Muslim religious liberty could be followed by an attack on theirs, and unfortunately, they were proven right.

While this fight about birth control may not be a Jewish issue, it is an issue of religious liberty. The Jewish community in San Francisco almost saw an infringement of its First Amendment rights passed into law last year, and its co-religionists spoke out for the sake of every religion’s right to practice freely. Now that this mandate is about to be enacted against every practicing Catholic in the United States, why won’t their Jewish co-religionists take the same stand?

LifeNews Note: Bethany Mandel is a graduate of Rutgers University with a BA in History and Jewish Studies. Previously she worked as a teacher in rural Cambodia and as an online fundraiser at The Heritage Foundation. She currently runs the social media presence for Commentary Magazine, where this article originally appeared, as its Social Media Associate and lives with her husband Seth Mandel, an assistant editor for Commentary, in New York City.