Great editorial making all the key points -
The 12 federal lawsuits filed Monday by 43 Catholic plaintiffs against the Obama Administration's birth-control mandate are a big political and Constitutional moment. The nation's most prominent Catholic institutions are saying that the same federal government they have viewed for decades as an ally in their fight for social justice is now a threat to their religious liberty.
This can't have been an easy decision, especially because the plaintiffs are hardly founding members of the tea party. They include the Archdioceses of New York and Washington but also Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and even the University of Notre Dame.
The famously liberal Notre Dame gave President Obama an honorary degree in 2009 despite his support for abortion rights. At the time, Notre Dame President John Jenkins applauded Mr. Obama's "willingness to engage with those who disagree with him and encourage people of faith to bring their beliefs to the public debate."
So much for that. The lawsuit signals that far from engaging with "those who disagree," Mr. Obama has rebuffed Catholic leaders in their attempt to work out a compromise over the Administration's mandate that all insurance plans offer contraception and sterilization services, including abortifacients. "If the government wants to provide such services," Father Jenkins said in a statement Monday, "means are available that do not compel religious organizations to serve as its agents."
The Department of Health and Human Services offered a fig leaf in February, foisting the mandate onto insurance companies rather than religious employers. But the insurers would pass along the mandate's cost to the employers in any case, and institutions like Notre Dame that self-insure would still be subsidizing policies that violate core church teaching. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York put it, this so-called "safe habor" effectively gives religious institutions "a year to figure out how to violate [their] consciences."
The suit charges that the mandate violates the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause, as well as the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that the federal government meet a higher legal standard for any law that interferes with religious liberty. "If the Government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in such a manner," argues the Notre Dame suit, "there is no apparent limit to the Government's power."
The Administration and Democrats have tried to obscure the real nature of this dispute by claiming that the church wants to deny contraception to women. But birth control will continue to be widely available and easily affordable no matter what the legal outcome. Nine out of 10 health plans currently provide it.
The real and startling question at issue is whether the entitlement state can pound everything, including religious belief, to its political will. Few previous Administrations would have dared such a high-stakes Constitutional battle, but Mr. Obama's willfulness reveals the change that is taking place in liberal politics.
Once upon a time the political left viewed Catholics and especially the bishops as their allies in using government to create more equal opportunity and redistribute income. But today's Democratic Party puts a higher cultural value on sexual politics and expanded reproductive freedom. We trust the courts will instruct the Administration that the Constitution still puts religious liberty first.