Senior Staff Writer
A federal regulation that business and church employee health insurance policies must cover birth control and abortion would have Catholics and others act contrary to their religion, according to a letter read from pulpits across Tennessee on Sunday.
It is a matter of conscience for Father William "Bill" Kelly, the priest at St. John Church, 1061 South Ellington Parkway, where he and a parishioner discussed the issue after Monday morning's Mass. On Sunday, the priest read Nashville Bishop David Choby's letter to the congregation here.
"We will not comply with this unjust law," Choby said of President Obama's health insurance directive.
"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees' health insurance that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and contraception," Choby said.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich raised the issue after results of the Nevada GOP caucuses were known Saturday night when he vowed to campaign ahead to the Super Tuesday primaries on March 6 when Tennessee voters go to the polls. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney beat Gingrich in Nevada and opinion polls indicate that Romney is so far ahead as to raise the question whether Romney is the presumptive Republican candidate to challenge President Obama in November.
"I think it's clear now" that the nominee is Romney, Grover Collins, a former Marshall County Democratic Party chairman and one who'd been active in state and national Democratic politics.
Marshall County Republican Party Chairman Mike Sherrell disagrees. Votes cast in Tennessee's presidential preferential primary will make a difference. Getting a party nomination requires a preponderance of delegates to vote for the candidate during the party's national convention, Sherrell said.
"My opinion is that it takes however many (delegates) that it takes," he said, recalling - without consulting records - that Romney has 168 delegates, but he needs 1,100, or some such number that dwarfs 168.
"There are two caucuses this week - and in one of them - no matter what the caucuses do, the delegates are not bound" to vote for the candidate to which they pledged loyalty and for whom they stood during the balloting at the party primary polls, Sherrell said.
Technically, people voting in a presidential primary are not voting for a candidate. They're voting for a number of delegates to the party's national convention where delegates vote to nominate a party candidate to run for president.
"And in some states like Florida, it's winner take all and (there in Florida) Romney won by two or a few delegates," Sherrell said.
Establishing true delegate counts has gone into April, he said. "We might have a more clear picture in March, but right now ... lots of things can happen."
And so Gingrich's announced intention to campaign - on issues such as requiring health insurance policies that cover birth control, abortion and sterilization - into Super Tuesday makes the position of Tennessee Catholics that much more important.
Some 54 percent of Catholics voted for Obama in 2008, Kelly recalls.
Sherrell and Collins agree with the Catholic Church's position with regard to mandatory health care insurance that must include coverage for birth control, abortion and sterilization.
"I'm not making my decision based on the Catholic Church," Collins said. "I don't think it should be forced on businesses. I don't think it had to be added to Obamacare. Why draw a line in the sand on something like that?
"But if you truly subscribe to the Christian theology, you might not be comfortable with a Mormon candidate," Collins continued.
Romney is a Mormon. Gingrich converted to Catholicism about two years ago.
"Mohammed (the prophet of Islam and the founder of Mohammedanism) was a self-appointed leader," Collins pointed out. "Joseph Smith was too," he said of an early and important figure for Mormons, or members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1823, Smith said an angel directed him to what he published as the Book of Mormon in 1830.
As for the health insurance issue, Sherrell said, "I don't feel the government should dictate that anyone should have insurance coverage at all and, if you don't (have health insurance) you should be fined...
"Funerals are ... expensive ... but I don't see the government requiring funeral coverage," the county GOP chairman said. "I hear the liberals argue for separation of church and state, then here's the government telling the church what to do."
Retired Marshall County teacher Lou Scheuchenzuber is a Catholic, was at the Monday morning Mass, and qualified his remarks about Choby's letter saying he'd not studied the issue closely.
"I'm following the lead of the church," Scheuchenzuber said. "I believe in the doctrine of the church on the issues of abortion, birth control and sterilization. I have to rely on the fact that the church has done its due diligence.
"The church has come out and said it's wrong, and I happen to agree with it."
Choby asked Catholics to pray and fast so wisdom and justice may prevail and religious liberty be restored.
After passage of what's become known as Obamacare, Catholic leaders pointed out that the requirement infringes on their right to freedom of religion.
They were given assurances "to their face" that the church's concerns would be accommodated, Kelly said, relying on church publications' explanations of what transpired in Washington, D.C.
Choby wrote in the Tennessee Register to the people of the Nashville Diocese: "This assurance was delivered by no one less than the president himself, first to Congressman Bart Stupak, then to Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York. Now, we face a mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services that requires us as the church to provide insurance to cover procedures and practices that directly violate Catholic moral principals."