Biden against the Bishops

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops directly challenged a statement that Vice President Joe Biden made during the debate on Thursday night, insisting “it is not a fact,” as Biden claimed, that they are exempt from the anti-conscience HHS mandate.

The HHS mandate will force Catholic institutions and other employers to provide free sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion, to their employees through their health insurance plans.

Here are key statements from Biden during the debate and from the Bishops in a statement the following day:

BIDEN:  “With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”

BISHOPS:  “This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain ‘religious employers.’ That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to ‘Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,’ or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.”

The Bishops said Catholic institutions “will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.”

Rep. Paul Ryan said during the debate the Obama administration is “infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion,” adding “Our church should not have to sue our federal government to maintain their religious liberties.”

Vice President Biden used grammatical trickery during the debate to vastly misrepresent the facts.  Religious-affiliated institutions were given a year’s reprieve from the mandate, and Biden used the window to claim that the mandate does not affect them now. Note the use of the present tense in his statement: “…none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle…”  It’s a verbal sleight-of-hand that would make Bill Clinton proud.

But if President Obama is re-elected, the mandate will surely go into effect unchanged and religious organizations will have to abide.

This issue is causing soul-searching among many voters, including traditional Catholic Democrats.  Nearly 500 people packed a gymnasium at St.  Elizabeth Catholic Church in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, on Saturday afternoon to hear Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia address the issue of Catholics in politics.

During his remarks, Archbishop Chaput said Vice President Biden “was wrong” in what he said about the mandate during the debate and “he should not get away with saying that in the public square.”

The archbishop added that the HHS mandate “could lead to the closing of schools and other Catholic institutions. This is a serious matter.”

The Church has already shown its willingness to take the challenge to the courts, with 43 Catholic Diocese suing, saying the mandate is a violation of their constitutionally-protected religious liberty.

There are now more than 35 separate lawsuits that challenge the HHS mandate.

In a statement released on Friday, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced that many leading Catholic institutions and others filed a brief in support of the fund’s appeal on behalf of Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College in challenging the mandate before the D.C. Circuit.

The Catholic University of America, the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. all urged the courts in their brief to address the violation of religious liberty as presented in the HHS mandate. According to the Becket Fund:

[T]he brief filed by these Catholic institutions comes less than one day after the Vice President of the United States denied during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan that the mandate does impact other religious organizations.

“But the facts are exactly the reverse,” asserted Kyle Duncan, General Counsel of the Becket Fund. “Under the mandate, nearly every Catholic hospital, charity, university, and diocese in the United States—along with millions of institutions of other faiths—must refer for, must pay for, and must act as a vehicle for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. If they do not, they face millions in fines. That is a fact.”

In addition to the Catholic institutions, thirteen states, The Cato Institute, the American Civil Rights Union, The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Center for Law and Justice, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, among others, also filed on Friday on behalf of Wheaton and Belmont Abbey colleges.