Freedom of Religion Attacked Again

This weekend, many Catholics who attended mass in their local churches and picked up a copy of the parish bulletin probably read a letter from their local bishop, concerning a recent decision of the Obama Administration to force religious institutions to provide medical coverage for abortifacients, contraceptives, and sterilization.  These procedures and practices run directly counter to the teachings of the Catholic Church, as well as those of many Protestant churches, and also those of other non-Christian faiths.  Following the airing of a few thoughts of my own, I am providing the text of the letter we received from Cardinal Donald Wuerl, our Archbishop here in Washington, D.C., for those who are interested in reading his views on this subject.

Those of my readers who are fellow Catholics, or who are pro-life in their views, are well-aware of why we oppose these things.  However just as large a concern here is the question of religious liberty, which is one of the foundation stones of the American system of government.  Whether or not you agree with the Catholic Church’s firmly-held teachings over the past 2,000 years regarding abortion, contraception, and sterilization, ask yourself whether you are comfortable with the idea that the government has the right to force a religious institution to pay for something that runs directly contrary to its core religious beliefs.

Two weeks ago, in the unanimous decision of the Justices in the Hosanna-Tabor case, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Administration’s arguments for interference with religious liberty as being “extreme,” “untenable”, and “remarkable.” Apparently, the Administration has not learned its lesson, and intends to set itself up for a fight on the issue of religious liberty once again. Who knows what else the present government has in store for religious groups, if it cannot even accommodate institutions such as Catholic charitable organizations, who are now going to have to very seriously look into the question of whether they will have to shut down. And by the way, the Catholic Church is the single largest provider of education, social services, and healthcare in the United States after the government, often working in very poor, remote, or dangerous areas where no one else INCLUDING the government will even try to help.

Here is Cardinal Wuerl’s letter, which you can also read by following this link. Please share it with others, as you see fit:

January 26, 2012

Dear Brother Priests,

On January 20, 2012, the United States Department of Health and Human Services with the approval of President Barack Obama issued a new federal mandate making coverage of abortifacient drugs, sterilization and all FDA-approved contraceptives obligatory for virtually all employers, including faith-based institutions.

What is at the center of the concern of Catholic bishops and others about this action by the Obama administration? How can it affect the institutions of the Archdiocese of Washington?

The new mandate is the first federal regulation in our nation’s history to require all faith-based institutions to pay for coverage of abortifacient drugs, sterilization and contraceptives. People were already free to use such widely available products and procedures. Up until this mandate, employers could choose whether or not to cover them and individuals could choose whether or not to seek employers that pay for them. Now nearly all those who provide insurance must include abortifacients, sterilization and contraceptives. Virtually all Catholic institutions and individuals will have to pay for that coverage. Being forced to provide these services violates both our faith conviction and our freedom.

In upholding the HHS regulation, the administration has ignored the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and has denied Catholics the most fundamental freedom, religious liberty. Despite the Church’s appeal for a broader religious exemption, which was echoed by many other faiths, the administration refused to modify the regulation’s current exemption that is limited to religious groups that hire and serve people primarily of their own faith. Most churches and church-run institutions do not qualify for the exemption because of their very openness to serving the common good of society and all people regardless of creed.

Even those who may disagree with the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life, such as the editorial boards of The Washington Post and the New York Daily News, have stated that the government has no business forcing religious institutions to sponsor and pay for procedures and drugs which violate their beliefs.

What will happen if this mandate stands? Our schools, hospitals and charitable organizations will be placed in the untenable position of choosing between violating civil law and abandoning our religious beliefs.

For example, the mandate will allow a Catholic school one of three options: 1) violate its beliefs by providing coverage for medications and procedures we believe are immoral, 2) cease providing insurance coverage for all of its employees and face ongoing and ultimately ruinous fines, or 3) attempt to qualify for the exemption by hiring and serving only Catholics.

A Catholic school simply cannot effectively teach Catholic doctrine while providing insurance to its teachers – and in the case of Catholic universities, to its students as well – that violates its own beliefs. Nor should it have to deny its employees access to affordable health care, a basic human right. Nor could it afford to pay crippling fines. Nor should it be forced to close its doors to non-Catholics.

There can no longer be any doubt that religious liberty in our country is in jeopardy. Only weeks ago, the Obama administration unsuccessfully argued to the Supreme Court that the government has the right to interfere in a church’s choice of its ministers. Thankfully, the Court unanimously rejected this radical position. Undeterred, the government has advanced on another front.

Catholics across America are already fighting this mandate. Catholic journalists of all backgrounds have widely criticized the HHS rules as unjust, and leaders of major Catholic organizations — such as the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities USA — have also spoken out against them. In the meantime, the Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty is actively exploring options for litigation and legislative proposals to remedy this injustice.

I hope you will bring this information to the attention of your parishioners and encourage them to pray that justice will prevail and religious liberty may be restored. You may wish to include a bulletin announcement or information on your parish website recommending that parishioners visit and for details about the new federal mandate and how to contact Congress to support legislation that would reverse the administration’s decision. Please consider calling attention to this issue and all of these resources as soon as possible.

With gratitude for your collaboration in this very important matter and with every good wish, I am

Faithfully in Christ,
Donald Cardinal Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington

Cardinal Wuerl at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

2 thoughts on “Freedom of Religion Attacked Again

  1. Well … the way you put it is a bit hyperbolic. In short, what the Obama administration has wisely done is ensure that an employer’s religious beliefs should not dictate the type of drugs or medical procedures covered by their employees’ health insurance plans. People offended by contraceptives, for example, are certainly not mandated to buy them. However, if I was employed by a religious organization, I would certainly want a full suite of available healthcare options despite whatever the leaders-of-the-faith wanted.


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