Recognizing Conscience

In a rare triumph for religious freedom and the liberty of the conscience, the Trump Administration was able to issue rules, albeit interim, concerning the exemption for religious organizations who do not wish to supply contraception and abortifacients for their employees. As you will no doubt recall, this was a fierce controversy during the Obama Administration, and the decision was to force employees, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, to offer plans that supplied abortifacients and abortions. The Little Sisters became the heroic face of opposition to the contraception mandate put into place by the Department of Health and Human Services.

To be clear, the federal mandate for secular employers to provide contraception under their health insurance still exists. Likewise, all churches were already exempted from providing contraception under insurance. However, this was not the case for not-for-profit organizations, like Church-run education and social services.

This decision by the Trump Administration was praised by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and will no doubt be challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Service Employee International Union-United Health Workers West. There is still a big fight ahead.

It all boils down to conscience and the respect that government must have for the consciences and the moral values of religious people. The term “conscience” has been bandied about quite a bit in this discussion. So, we might wish to ask ourselves, exactly what do we mean by conscience?

A sure guide in this, as in all things, can come from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which No. 1778 tells us the following: “Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law.”

We are grateful for President Trump fulfilling this campaign promise he made to all people of faith. We are grateful for this victory under law and we hope and pray that it can be affirmed in the future, despite the challenges it will no doubt undergo.