HHS Mandate and IRS Scandal Are Wrong for the Same Reasons

The Obama Administration has a thorn in its side: An organization that doesn’t just disagree with the President, but builds a moral case against his policies. The White House wants to neutralize the organization’s effectiveness. They know how to get it done.

That organization hears a scary knock at the door (or its equivalent in a notice from a government agency) and discovers they are going to have to pay.

Obama’s campaign was already preaching against the organization. Now Obama’s agency moves to weaken and quiet the group. To make its members think again about their beliefs and actions. To make the group disburse and then disperse.

The organization is the Catholic Church and the knock on the door is the HHS mandate, which would fine organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars a year unless they are willing to violate their consciences.

The IRS scandal, in which the Internal Revenue Service targeted tea party and patriot groups critical of Obama’s policies (and probably pro-life groups,the National Organization for Marriage and a professor) has a lot in common with the administration’s HHS mandate targeting of Catholics and others critical of Obama’s policies.


  • The HHS mandate isn’t about health care:  Contraception neither treats nor prevents any disease.
  • The HHS mandate isn’t about making contraceptives available: They are already widely available at low cost; 85% of corporations cover them, nearly all government jobs do, and Planned Parenthood and HHS clinics offer them free or practically free to fill the gaps.
  • The HHS mandate isn’t about fairness: Under it, if you want a birth control pill you don’t have to worry about co-pays. If you need to take a drug to keep you alive, you have to come up with money for the privilege.

So, what is the HHS mandate about?

  • Weakening the First Amendment. The HHS mandate reshapes constitutional rights. It makes a new “right to free contraception” a more fundamental right than the right than to free exercise of religion.
  • Neutralizing Opponents. As Cardinal Francis George put it, the HHS mandate “attempts to weaken the unity between the bishops and the faithful.” As George Weigel and Ross Douthat put it, it is a political “divide and conquer” strategy.
  • Expanding Executive Power. The HHS Mandate was a giant power grab. Cardinal George, as early as 2009 was warning that it was Obama’s opposition to health care conscience rules (despite his promise to the contrary at Notre Dame) that “could be the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism.”

Look at the IRS scandal and you find the same contours.

  • Weakening the First Amendment. The IRS scandal violates both the “freedom of speech” clause of the First Amendment, demanding Tea Party groups tell it the content of their speeches, and the “freedom of religion” clause, and demanding pro-life groups tell it the content of their prayers.
  • Neutralizing opponents.  Salon magazine reminds us of four political foes that may have been targeted when George W. Bush was president. The Wall Street Journal  objected at the time. So did the NAACP, one of the targets, and congressional Democrats, who called it political “intimidation.” Their words are well-taken. Apply them to Obama’s IRS and the outrage should be exponentially higher with nearly 500 organizations targeted.
  • Expanding Government Power.  Ironically, the IRS scandal targeted groups whose very purpose is to warn Americans that the government is grabbing too much power through taxes: King George’s taxation without representation. The IRS’s “taxation as vexation” goes one step further.

So does the HHS Mandate.

Government Oversight Committee Democrat Congressman Elijah Cummings calls the IRS scandal  “one of the most alarming things that I have ever seen.” Catholics should remind lawmakers that the HHS mandate is equally alarming. As even many many Democrats agree, the demand by the Obama administration that Catholic organizations violate their consciences or pay crippling fines is unconscionable. The HHS mandate is wrong for all the reasons the IRS scandal is wrong, only worse.

It is political intimidation at its worst. While the Obama campaign was using overheated rhetoric to call Catholic positions a “war on women,” the Obama administration was demanding Catholics violate their consciences on precisely those issues.

Fair is fair: If we are outraged about the IRS targeting political opponents on the left or right, and we should be, we should be outraged about the HHS targeting the Catholic Church.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.