Scrooge and the HHS Mandate


My  pastor, Father Skip Davis, gave his “Fortnight for Freedom” sermon this weekend. It deserves to be shared far beyond the confines of our rural  Pennsylvania parish. I begged Father for his notes and did a little summarizing and editing, but hope this conveys the power of this message.

Father began by mentioning the expression, “Christmas in July”, and letting us know we were going to observe that today, and that in his opinion, no Christmas observance would be complete without at least a little bit of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. He then described the scene with the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, quoting the text to describe the terror-inspiring appearance of the third spirit. Next, he reviewed  the conversations Scrooge overheard: all the hints that Scrooge refused to see for what they were, so that at last, when the moonlight in the cemetery reveals his own name on a tombstone, Scrooge found it utterly shocking and unexpected.

At this point, Father stopped to assure us, that yes, all this was a hook to get our attention, but not to worry—it really was going somewhere. He went on:

In 1962, a law was passed in this country.  Engel vs. Vitale. It’s the law which removed pubic prayer from the public school system. Basing its position on a perhaps misinterpretation of the first half of the First Amendment to the US Constitution– that the federal government should have no law respecting the establishment of religion– it pushed for and succeeded in having publicly led school prayers declared illegal. This may not make much sense now but consider that similar to the first conversation that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come exposed Scrooge to, similar to the conversation between the three gentleman about whether or not they would attend a certain funeral. And neither will this make any sense yet – bear with me – but consider it the first nail in the coffin.

 “It was a mere, short, eleven years later that the infamous Supreme Court case of Roe vs. Wade rose to the public consciousness. Even if you didn’t recognize 1962’s Engel vs. Vitale, every Catholic should be familiar with this one. Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion in this country and set off a holocaust of unborn and innocent victims that has reached the staggering proportions of 1.21 million last year. Compare that unfortunate and horrifying watershed moment in the relationship between government and religious principles to the conversation that Scrooge overheard between those who were trying to sell the deceased’s belonging to Old Joe. The second nail in the coffin. Even though the first and the second cases were only eleven years apart, nobody saw any connection between them, anymore than Scrooge saw any similarity between the deceased person discussed  in the first conversation and the deceased in the second.

 “Of course, if you aren’t familiar with what happened next, you simply have not been paying enough attention. It’s been all over the news and has created a storm of dissent from the Catholic arena that is almost unprecedented in recent years. Of course, I am talking about what we refer to as the HHS, Health and Human Services, contraceptive mandate. In just these past six months, the current federal government administration has said that by August, 2012, in just a little over a month from now, all employer’s insurance companies are required to include contraceptive coverage for their employees. And  just so you understand why we’re raising such a fuss and a ruckus, just so you understand why Catholic dioceses across the country are filing suit against the federal government: the mandate even applies to those institutions of employment, to those religious institutions, that are opposed to the use of contraception on moral and doctrinal grounds.

 And even the president’s attempt at exemption for strictly speaking, ‘religious organizations:’ that is, for parish churches per se, it still requires religiously affiliated organizations such as schools and hospitals, to comply.

There’s been long span of time since Roe vs. Wade in 1973 until now. But– another nail in the coffin. Time enough for even those who have been paying attention to the slippery slope, to the snowball rolling downhill, to lose sight of the bigger picture, to lose sight of what’s happening. Neither did Ebeneezer Scrooge, even after overhearing a third conversation among the members of a poor family who were rejoicing over the death of the person to whom they owed a debt. He didn’t see it coming. He didn’t get it. He didn’t make the connection yet either.

 “Once the momentum achieves a certain speed, things will begin to happen quickly. It wasn’t that long ago, and only a few short months since the HHS mandate, that our president finally and definitively spoke out in public support of same sex marriages. Then even I began to express some alarm. I remember saying to a few of you that now I was wondering how much longer it would take before the federal government requires religious institutions and/or religious leaders to witness same sex marriages. And it wasn’t even two weeks after I said this that I received an e-mail from the American Family Association, which informed me that military chaplains, although not required or coerced, are now authorized, allowed to perform same sex marriages, despite the still standing, in force, 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which defines a marriage as a union between a man and a women. So now this is Scrooge, on his knees, seeing his name on the tombstone.  Because he failed so far to see the forest for the trees, for the first time, he’s realizing that all of the previously overhead conversations were about him. A fourth nail. What is the next step? Will it ever come to the point where I will be required by federal law to do what military chaplains are now permitted?

 “I don’t know how good of a job I’ve done so if you can’t see what I’ve been trying to say, here it is, in a nutshell, short and sweet:  It’s been going on for quite a while now. As far as I can see, at least, since 1962 and Engel vs. Vitale. It look a pretty quick step forward with 1973’s Roe vs. Wade. It took a step out of the limelight, perhaps in the hopes of laying low for awhile, perhaps in the hopes of catching us unaware, and didn’t raise its ugly head for almost forty years. But it was secretly and subtly gaining speed and moving forward. The recent HHS mandate brought it to our attention again. And now it’s almost happening too quickly, requiring a quick opposition.

 “Just like it took the fourth nail in the coffin before Scrooge got the picture, the HHS mandate and the presidential support of same sex marriage is our coffin. We are seeing, just like Scrooge did, death: not the death of a person but the death of religious liberty and freedom and independence. And just like Scrooge, who stood up and did something to stop his death from happening, that’s exactly and precisely what we need to do. This is not only a call to prayer. As powerful as it is, we also need action.

 “And that’s what these days are all about. For the past few days and in the few days to come, we’ve been offering prayer and presentations on the topic of government interference on religious liberty and we’ve been calling you to action. Do you know how many coffin nails it takes to nail it shut? We could ask a funeral director but just for the sake of argument, let’s say five. That’s why Scrooge was able to reverse the future. Because he got to it before the fifth nail sealed his doom. And here is our fifth. [at which point Father held up a very large nail] What do you want to do with it? Will you join us, before it’s too late?”

Thank you, Father Skip Davis, for these words.  And thank you to all pastors who have stood up and spoken plainly during the Fortnight. May your parishioners answer your call with courage and resolve.


Daria Sockey is a freelance writer from western Pennsylvania. Her articles have appeared in many Catholic publications. She authored several of the original Ignatius Press Faith and Life catechisms in the 1980s, and more recently wrote five study guides for saints' lives DVDs distributed by Ignatius Press. She now writes regularly for the newly revamped Catholic Digest. Her newest book, The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, will be published by Servant Books this spring. Feel Free to email her at [email protected]

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