Tom O’Hara: What would Pope Francis think about challenging Obamacare?

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What would Pope Francis think?

He’s probably not up to speed on the details of the lawsuit brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor against the federal government. The Sisters say they should be exempt from providing contraceptive coverage to their employees who work at the Sisters’ home for the aged in Colorado.

The legal issues are astonishing. Here are the basics:

— the nuns say they should not be compelled under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to provide coverage for sinful acts – birth control.

— the federal government says that under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, the nuns already are exempt from providing such coverage.

— the federal government says that all the nuns have to do under Obamacare is sign a form stating they are invoking their right to an exemption.

— the nuns contend that being required to sign the form imposes a “substantial burden” on the exercise of their religious rights.

Really? Signing a form imposes a “substantial burden”?

The legal implications of a victory for the nuns if this goes to the U.S. Supreme Court are complex. If you want to know more, read Ian Millhiser’s piece on Think Progress.

You may have heard about the Hobby Lobby case. The Sisters’ case is different. The Hobby Lobby is a for-profit company owned by devout Christians who oppose Obamacare. That’s a whole different set of legal facts and arguments.

The nuns’ case is silly. If you’re the least bit skeptical, you’d think that rich conservative businessmen who hate President Obama and Obamacare are giving the nuns money and legal advice.

Let’s hope the nuns have been listening to Pope Francis. This guy is driving the dwindling number of conservative American Catholics nuts by urging them to be nice to the poor, homosexuals and – God forbid – atheists.

He’s been telling Catholics – and the clergy in particular – to stop worrying about gay people and start worrying about hungry people.

The Little Sisters are perplexing. American nuns are, for the most part, wildly liberal. They’re always in trouble with the Vatican because they say what American bishops are afraid to say about the Church in the Western World.

Someone should poll the Little Sisters and ask all of them if they think a Catholic religious order should be trying to undermine Obamacare, a program designed to provide healthcare to poor people.

What would Pope Francis think?

Certainly he’s aware that the Church in the United States is dying. It tries to put the best face on its status in the U.S.: there are nearly 80 million Catholics in the country, they make up the largest religion in the nation, and the burgeoning Hispanic population assures a bright future.

But the facts are harsh.

“The share of all Catholics who say they attend Mass at least once a week has dropped from 47% in 1974 to 24% in 2012,” according to a recent Pew study. And some people lie when asked questions like that. I’d bet the percentage is smaller.

Many people identify themselves as Catholic, but they don’t really practice the religion.

“In 1987, more than half of Catholic women reported attending Catholic Mass weekly, compared to 38 percent of men. By 2011, the gender gap was gone,” reports David Briggs, of the Association of Religion Data Archives.

“And for the first time in the 2011 survey, women were less likely than men to say the Catholic Church was among the most important parts of their lives,” Briggs writes for the Huffington Post.

Shocking? The vast majority of American Catholic women practice birth control, a mortal sin that could land you in Hell for eternity. How’s that for wedge issue with women?

It seems crazy that nuns would be fighting this goofy fight. American Catholic women are dismayed by the Church’s opposition to birth control and many of them probably want poor people to have basic healthcare.

What would Pope Francis think?

Guest Author


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