Category Archives: Religious Freedom

Violence Against Christians in Syria

I read this article in Fides this afternoon. Christians in Syria are caught in the cross-fire between rebels and government forces. Please keep them in your prayers. Here is the article.

Tartus (Agenzia Fides) – About 150 thousand Christians live in fear in more than 40 villages in the so-called “Valley of the Christians” in western Syria. The valley (“Wadi al Nasara”), a historical stronghold of the Syrian Christians, mostly Greek Orthodoxs, received in recent months thousands of refugees from Homs and other cities and provinces. Today Christians are under Islamist militias fire who have settled in the Crusader fortress “Krak des Chevaliers”, built in the eleventh century by a Muslim emir, rebuilt by the Knights Hospitallers and today UNESCO world cultural heritage. As reported to Fides, for days the militias from the hill on which the fortress stands, have been firing nonstop against the villages below. In the area barricades were in fact erected by the regular Syrian army, militants’ target. The Christian civilians are “collateral victims” that are affected without any care! In recent days, a rain of fire hit the village of Howache, destroying several houses, killing three young Christians, injuring many civilians. The families of the village cry Iyad Salloum, 30, Fady Haddad, 34, while another young man died in the hospital of Our Lady of Hosn. And, in recent weeks, the Christian community in the valley had already counted nine other deaths.”Christians – a local priest reported the tragic situation to Fides – are very fragile and they want to be neutral, but today our valley is beset by violence and instability that confuse and frighten us. Violence covers and nullifies everything: we are not able to be instruments of dialogue and cohesion, as we want to be.” The priest asks the warring parties to “not hit civilians gratuitously, to respect the neutrality of the Christians for their faith and identity, they want to be a factor of reconciliation.” (PA) (Agenzia Fides 13/12/2012

Source: www.fides.org/aree/news/newsdet.php?idnews=32869&lang=eng

The HHS Mandate vs a Family Business

Here is a story of things to come if the HHS mandate requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for abortion, contraception and sterilization (regardless of the employers religious beliefs) is allowed to remain. I think this court case is going to go all the way to the Supreme Court, and I hope the justices have enough acumen to protect our First Amendment rights of religious liberty.

In short, this case is regarding a Colorado family who run a heating and ventilation business. The family is Catholic, and they do not want to comply with the mandate because if violates their religious liberty and forces them to violate their faith.

This business is a family-owned business with a about 250 employees. The government is, apparently, asserting that this family has a choice: Give up the practice of your faith, or give up your business.

God help us all if this kind of government intrusion continues and is allowed to stand.

Here is an extensive excerpt from the report at CNSNews:

(CNSNews.com) - The Justice Department last week presented the Newland family of Colorado–who own Hercules Industries, a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning business–with what amounted to an ultimatum: Give up your religion or your business.

“Hercules Industries has ‘made no showing of a religious belief which requires that [it] engage in the [HVAC] business,” the Justice Department said in a formal filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

In response to the Justice Department’s argument that the Newlands can either give up practicing their religion or give up owning their business, the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the family, said in a reply brief: “[T]o the extent the government is arguing that its mandate does not really burden the Newlands because they are free to abandon their jobs, their livelihoods, and their property so that others can take over Hercules and comply, this expulsion from business would be an extreme form of government burden.”

Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its mandate that individuals must buy health insurance, this suit which seeks to protect a small business from being forced to take actions that violate the moral and religious beliefs of the family that owns it is likely to be the next major court battle over Obamacare.

At stake is whether businesses are protected by the First Amendment—the part of the Bill of Rights that guarantees not only the free exercise of religion but also freedom of speech and of the press.

The Justice Department’s filing was made in Newland v. Sebelius–a suit brought by William, Paul and James Newland, and their sister, Christine Ketterhagen, who are Roman Catholics, and who together own Colorado-based Hercules Industries.

The Newland family founded Hercules in 1962 and have maintained it as a family-owned business ever since—growing it to the point where they now employ 265 people.

The Newlands’ lawsuit challenges a regulation that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius finalized earlier this year that requires virtually all health plans to cover–without cost-sharing–sterilizations and all Food-and-Drug Administration approved contraceptives, including those that induce abortions.

Under the Obamacare law, businesses that have more than 50 employees must provide health insurance to their employees or face a penalty…….

The Catholic Church, to which the Newlands belong, teaches that sterilization, contraception and abortion are intrinsically immoral. Last month, the Catholic bishops of the United States unanimously adopted a statement declaring Sebelius’s regulation an “unjust and illegal mandate” and a “violation of personal civil rights.”……

The Newlands currently run a self-insurance plan, providing their employees with generous health-care coverage that is consistent with the teachings of the Newlands’ church in that it does not cover sterilizations, contraception and abortifacients. They are precisely among the class of people that the unanimous Catholic bishops said have “no conscience protection at all” under Sebelius’s regulation.

In their complaint against the Obama administration, which was prepared by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Newlands clearly explained why they could not comply with Sebelius’s regulation without violating their religious faith.

“The Newlands sincerely believe that the Catholic faith does not allow them to violate Catholic religious and moral teachings in their decisions operating Hercules Industries,” says the complaint. “They believe that according to the Catholic faith their operation of Hercules must be guided by ethical social principles and Catholic religious and moral teachings, that the adherence of their business practice according to such Catholic ethics and religious and moral teachings is a genuine calling from God, that their Catholic faith prohibits them to sever their religious beliefs from their daily business practice, and that their Catholic faith requires them to integrate the gifts of the spiritual life, the virtues, morals, and ethical social principles of Catholic teaching into their life and work.”

“The Catholic Church teaches that abortifacient drugs, contraception and sterilization are intrinsic evils,” says the complaint. “As a matter of religious faith the Newlands believe that those Catholic teachings are among the religious ethical teachings they must follow throughout their lives including in their business practice.”

The Justice Department responded by arguing that if the Newlands’ Roman Catholic faith prevented them from following the Obama administration’s command that they provide their employees with cost-sharing-free coverage for sterilizations, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, the Newlands could simply give up their business entirely.

The Justice Department further argued that people owning for-profit secular businesses do not have a First Amendment right to the free exercise religion in the way they conduct their businesses—particularly if their business is incorporated……

“Hercules Industries has ‘made no showing of a religious belief which requires that [it] engage in the [HVAC] business,” DOJ told the court. “Any burden is therefore caused by the company’s choice to enter into a commercial activity.”

In its brief responding to the Justice Department on behalf of the Newland family, the Alliance Defending Freedom forcefully rebutted the claim that the First Amendment does not apply to corporations let alone to family-owned businesses.

“The government argues that the Newlands forfeited their right to religious liberty as soon as they endeavored to earn their living by running a corporation,” said the Newlands’ brief.

“Nothing in the Constitution, the Supreme Court’s decisions, or federal law requires—or even suggests—that families forfeit their religious liberty protection when they try to earn a living, such as by operating a corporate business,” they argued.

If the Obama administration’s understanding of the First Amendment were accepted, argued the Alliance Defending Freedom’s brief, the media would have no rights either.

“The government’s exclusionary attitude would push religion out of every sphere of life except the four wall of a church,” they said in their brief. “If for-profit corporations have no First Amendment ‘purpose,’ newspapers and other media would have no rights.”

If they refuse to sell their businesses, families like the Newlands are trapped by the Sebelius regulation. They can stop providing health insurance to themselves and their employees through the business, but then they and their employees would still be required, under Obamacare’s individual mandate, to buy health insurance, and under the Sebelius regulation all the health insurance plans they would be able to buy would still be required to cover sterilizations, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs. Their premiums would then contribute to those “services,” and the business owners would still be required to pay a penalty to the government of about $2,000 per year for each employee they did not insure.

If businesses like the Newlands’ try to simply flout the Sebelius regulation and continue providing insurance to their workers that does not cover the sterilization-contraception-abortifacient benefits that the Obama administration demands, they will be hit with confiscatory financial penalties…..

Read about it at: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/doj-colorado-family-give-your-religion-or-your-business

The Catholic Vote… We Must

The upcoming election has so many very important issues at stake, issues that, if resolved in a manner at odds with our human nature, religious liberties and human life, will have disastrous effects for generations. That is why it is so important the Catholics be informed, think clearly, and vote.

I have spent considerable time and space in this blog on the Marriage Amendment before Minnesota voters this November. This is one issue that must be decided favorably. Please vote “yes” on the ballot. Our religious liberty is being threatened by the federal government’s HHS mandate forcing us to pay for abortion and contraception despite strongly held religious conviction that prohibit us from doing so. There are the issues of abortion, taxes, the environment, jobs, etc.

Here is a video that so well demonstrates the need to be knowledgeable of the issues as Catholics and to vote.

Quote for the Day #2

“The mechanisms to preserve religious liberty only work when people care about their religion… Saving religious liberty means reminding people that they should love God. Thomas More taught us that we need religious liberty. More importantly, he taught us that loving God is worth dying for. If that is so, then the freedom to love God is worth the fight.”
~John H. Garvey, Esq., President, The Catholic University of America, Address given at the USCCB 2012 June General Assembly

Protest by Catholic Activists – The Hill’s Healthwatch

I want to thank Deacon Greg Kandra over at the Deacon’s Bench for bringing this article to my attention. It comes “The Hill,” the political paper of record in Washington, D.C. Here is an excerpt:

Democrats want voters this year to focus on what they have branded a war on women, but the flip side of the debate — the so-called war on religion — is not going away anytime soon.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for two weeks of public protest in June and July against what it sees as growing government encroachment on religious freedom.

The protests are expected to include priests and nuns and thousands of Catholic parishioners. Some activists expect civil disobedience, which could lead to powerful images of priests and nuns being led away in hand restraints.

“This is the most dynamic situation I’ve ever seen since I’ve been involved in Catholics and politics,” said Deal Hudson, president of Catholic Advocate…..”

You can read the entire article at the following link: Protest by Catholic activists may hamper Obama reelection bid – The Hill’s Healthwatch.

Let us be informed, and let us also defend our religious liberty, the right to practice our faith without government intrusion.

Charles Kadlec on the HHS Mandate and the First Amendment

Forbes magazine recently ran an article written by Charles Kadlec that rather eloquently explains why the Church cannot accept the HHS mandate forcing it to pay for contraception, sterilizations and abortifacient drugs. I encourage you to read the entire article at:

www.forbes.com/sites/charleskadlec/2012/02/13/the-audacity-of-power-president-obama-vs-the-catholic-church/

Here is an excerpt, taken from the source above:

The Audacity of Power: President Obama Vs. The Catholic Church

 “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent.” Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis

In one of the boldest, most audacious moves ever made by a President of the United States, President Barack Obama is on the brink of successfully rendering moot the very first clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (emphasis added). If he forces the Catholic Church to comply with the Health and Human Services ruling to provide its employees with insurance that covers activities the Church has long held sinful — abortion via the morning after pill, sterilization and contraceptives — then the precedent is clear: when religious beliefs conflict with government decrees, religion must yield.

The story line that President Obama miscalculated in picking this fight with the Catholic Church vastly underestimates the man’s political skill and ambition. His initial approval of the ruling requiring the Church pay for abortion drugs and sterilization was but the first step in a calculated strategy to further his goal of transforming America.

President Obama chose to pick this fight with the Catholic Church by choosing to release the regulations first, and then, as he explained in last Friday’s statement to the press, spend “the next year (before the new regulations take effect) to find an equitable solution that would protect religious liberty and insure that every woman has access to the care that she needs.” The alternative would have been to find the “equitable solution” before announcing the regulations. In other words, this entire political fire storm is a set-up by the Administration.

The original HHS ruling put the Catholic Church into the position of choosing one of these two options:

Option A: The Church complies with the law and violates its own teachings and principles of faith. Such a choice would strip the Church of its legitimacy and make it a de facto vassal of the state. In this case, the ability of the Church to challenge the government’s political power is vastly reduced, if not completely destroyed. Faith, charity and civil society are marginalized. Government wins.

Option B: The Church as a matter of conscience refuses to obey the law, and stops offering health insurance to its employees. In this case, the Church gets crushed by hundreds of millions of dollars in fines. As a consequence, its ability to fulfill its religious mission by funding hospitals, schools and charities is sharply reduced if not destroyed. As the Church is forced to withdraw from its active role in civil society, those who believe in government will rush to fill the void. Faith, charity and civil society are marginalized. Government wins.

The risk to President Obama was the Church would create “Option C” and engage in a broad political battle to force the full repeal of the ruling or, if that fails, the defeat of President Obama in the November election followed by the repeal of ObamaCare. Under Option C, government’s power is reduced. Faith, charity and civil society win.

President Obama’s political skill is demonstrated by his anticipation and preparation for just this outcome. 

Latest Letter from Cardinal Dolan and the USCCB on the HHS Mandate and Religious Liberty

Here is a recent letter from Cardinal Dolan on the HHS mandate. I would ask you to caredfully read it, be informed, and become active in protecting our religious liberty which is seriously at stake here.

The highlighted link is for you who wish to see the letter in PDF form.

Dolan-to-all-bishops-HHS

Office of the President 

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan

Archbishop of New York

March 2, 2012

My brother bishops,

Twice in recent weeks, I have written you to express my gratitude for our unity in faith  and action as we move forward to protect our religious freedom from unprecedented intrusion from a government bureau, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I remain deeply grateful to you for your determined resolve, to the Chairmen of our committees directly engaged in these efforts – Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Bishop Stephen Blaire and Bishop William Lori -who have again shown themselves to be such excellent leaders during these past weeks, and to all our staff at the USCCB who work so diligently under the direction of the Conference leadership.

How fortunate that we as a body have had opportunities during our past plenary assemblies to manifest our strong unity in defense of religious freedom.  We rely on that unity now more than ever as HHS seeks to define what constitutes church ministry and how it can be exercised.  We will once again dedicate ample time at our Administrative Committee meeting next week, and at the June Plenary Assembly, to this critical subject.  We will continue to listen, discuss, deliberate and act.

Thank you, brothers, for the opportunity to provide this update to you and the dioceses you serve.  Many of you have expressed your thanks for what we have achieved together in so few weeks, especially the data provided and the leadership given by brother bishops, our conference staff and Catholic faithful.  And you now ask the obvious question, “What’s next?”

Please allow me to share with you now some thoughts about events and efforts to date and where we might go next.

Since January 20, when the final, restrictive HHS Rule was first announced, we have become certain of two things: religious freedom is under attack, and we will not cease our struggle to protect it. We recall the words of our Holy Father Benedict XVI to our brother bishops on their recent ad limina visit: “Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.” Bishop Stephen Blaire and Bishop William Lori, with so many others, have admirably kept us focused on this one priority of protecting religious freedom. We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans.  We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it.

As pastors and shepherds, each of us would prefer to spend our energy engaged in and promoting the works of mercy to which the Church is dedicated: healing the sick, teaching our youth, and helping the poor. Yet, precisely because we are pastors and shepherds, we recognize that each of the ministries entrusted to us by Jesus is now in jeopardy due to this bureaucratic intrusion into the internal life of the church.  You and I both know well that we were doing those extensive and noble works rather well without these radical new constrictive and forbidding mandates.  Our Church has a long tradition of effective partnership with government and the wider community in the service of the sick, our children, our elders, and the poor at home and abroad, and we sure hope to continue it.

Of course, we maintained from the start that this is not a “Catholic” fight alone.  I like to quote as often as possible a nurse who emailed me, “I’m not so much mad about all this as a Catholic, but as an American.”  And as we recall, a Baptist minister, Governor Mike Huckabee, observed, “In this matter, we’re all Catholics.”  No doubt you have heard numerous statements just like these.  We are grateful to know so many of our fellow Americans, especially our friends in the ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, stand together in this important moment in our country.  They know that this is not just about sterilization, abortifacients, and chemical contraception.  It’s about religious freedom, the sacred right of any Church to define its own teaching and ministry.

When the President announced on January 20th that the choking mandates from HHS would remain, not only we bishops and our Catholic faithful, but people of every faith, or none at all, rallied in protest. The worry that we had expressed — that such government control was contrary to our deepest political values — was eloquently articulated by constitutional scholars and leaders of every creed.

On February 10th, the President announced that the insurance providers would have to pay the bill, instead of the Church’s schools, hospitals, clinics, or vast network of charitable outreach having to do so.  He considered this “concession” adequate. Did this help?  We wondered if it would, and you will recall that the Conference announced at first that, while withholding final judgment, we would certainly give the President’s proposal close scrutiny.

Well, we did — and as you know, we are as worried as ever.

For one, there was not even a nod to the deeper concerns about trespassing upon religious freedom, or of modifying the HHS’ attempt to define the how and who of our ministry. Two, since a big part of our ministries are “self-insured,” we still ask how this protects us.  We’ll still have to pay and, in addition to that, we’ll still have to maintain in our policies practices which our Church has consistently taught are grave wrongs in which we cannot participate.   And what about forcing individual believers to pay for what violates their religious freedom and conscience?  We can’t abandon the hard working person of faith who has a right to religious freedom. And three, there was still no resolution about the handcuffs placed upon renowned Catholic charitable agencies, both national and international, and their exclusion from contracts just because they will not refer victims of human trafficking, immigrants and refugees, and the hungry of the world, for abortions, sterilization, or contraception.  In many ways, the announcement of February 10 solved little and complicated a lot.  We now have more questions than answers, more confusion than clarity.

So the important question arises: What to do now? How can we bishops best respond, especially united in our common pastoral ministry as an Episcopal Conference?  For one, under the ongoing leadership of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Bishop Blaire and Bishop Lori we will continue our strong efforts of advocacy and education.   In the coming weeks the Conference will continue to provide you, among other things, with catechetical resources on the significance of religious freedom to the Church and the Church’s teaching on it from a doctrinal and moral perspective.  We are developing liturgical aids to encourage prayer in our efforts and plans on how we can continue to voice our public and strong opposition to this infringement on our freedom.  And the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, that has served the Conference so well in its short lifespan, will continue its extraordinary work in service to this important cause.

Two, we will ardently continue to seek a rescinding of the suffocating mandates that require us to violate our moral convictions, or at least insist upon a much wider latitude to the exemptions so that churches can be free of the new, rigidly narrow definition of church, minister and ministry that would prevent us from helping those in need, educating children and healing the sick, no matter their religion.

In this regard, the President invited us to “work out the wrinkles.”  We have accepted that invitation.  Unfortunately, this seems to be stalled: the White House Press Secretary, for instance, informed the nation that the mandates are a fait accompli (and, embarrassingly for him, commented that we bishops have always opposed Health Care anyway, a charge that is scurrilous and insulting, not to mention flat out wrong. Bishop Blaire did a fine job of setting the record straight.)  The White House already notified Congress that the dreaded mandates are now published in the Federal Registry “without change.”  The Secretary of HHS is widely quoted as saying, “Religious insurance companies don’t really design the plans they sell based on their own religious tenets.” That doesn’t bode well for their getting a truly acceptable “accommodation.”

At a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff, our staff members asked directly whether the broader concerns of religious freedom—that is, revisiting the straight-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption—are all off the table.  They were informed that they are.  So much for “working out the wrinkles.”  Instead, they advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the “enlightened” voices of accommodation, such as the recent, hardly surprising yet terribly unfortunate editorial in America.  The White House seems to think we bishops simply do not know or understand Catholic teaching and so, taking a cue from its own definition of religious freedom, now has nominated its own handpicked official Catholic teachers.

We will continue to accept invitations to meet with and to voice our concerns to anyone of any party, for this is hardly partisan, who is willing to correct the infringements on religious freedom that we are now under.  But as we do so, we cannot rely on off the record promises of fixes without deadlines and without assurances of proposals that will concretely address the concerns in a manner that does not conflict with our principles and teaching.

Congress might provide more hope, since thoughtful elected officials have proposed legislation to protect what should be so obvious: religious freedom.  Meanwhile, in our recent debate in the senate, our opponents sought to obscure what is really a religious freedom issue  by maintaining that abortion inducing drugs and the like are a “woman’s health issue.”  We will not let this deception stand.  Our commitment to seeking legislative remedies remains strong.  And it is about remedies to the assault on religious freedom.  Period.  (By the way, the Church hardly needs to be lectured about health care for women.  Thanks mostly to our Sisters, the Church is the largest private provider of health care for women and their babies in the country.) Bishop William Lori, Chairman of our Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, stated it well in a recent press release: “We will build on this base of support as we pursue legislation in the House of Representatives, urge the Administration to change its course on this issue, and explore our legal rights under the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Perhaps the courts offer the most light.  In the recent Hosanna-Tabor ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously defended the right of a Church to define its own ministry and services, a dramatic rebuff to the administration, apparently unheeded by the White House. Thus, our bishops’ conference, many individual religious entities, and other people of good will are working with some top-notch law firms who feel so strongly about this that they will represent us pro-bono. In the upcoming days, you will hear much more about this encouraging and welcome development.

Given this climate, we have to prepare for tough times.  Some, like America magazine,  want us to cave-in and stop fighting, saying this is simply a policy issue; some want us to close everything down rather than comply (In an excellent article, Cardinal Francis George wrote that the administration apparently wants us to “give up for Lent” our schools, hospitals, and charitable ministries); some, like Bishop Robert Lynch wisely noted, wonder whether we might have to engage in civil disobedience and risk steep fines; some worry that we’ll have to face a decision between two ethically repugnant choices: subsidizing immoral services or no longer offering insurance coverage, a road none of us wants to travel.

Brothers, we know so very well that religious freedom is our heritage, our legacy and our firm belief, both as loyal Catholics and Americans.  There have been many threats to religious freedom over the decades and years, but these often came from without.  This one sadly comes from within.  As our ancestors did with previous threats, we will tirelessly defend the timeless and enduring truth of religious freedom.

I look forward to our upcoming Administrative Board Meeting and our June Plenary Assembly when we will have the chance to discuss together these important issues and our way forward in addressing them. And I renew my thanks to you for your tremendous, fraternal support and your welcome observations in this critical effort to protect our religious freedom.

With prayerful best wishes, I am

Fraternally in Christ,

Timothy Cardinal Dolan

Archbishop of New York

President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

My Bishop’s Letter to all the Faithful in the Diocese of Winona

(This is a transcript of the letter that was read in parishes of the diocese of Winona today regarding the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that strikes at the heart of religious liberty and the sanctity of conscience. Please read and respond to your congressman/woman, senator and the White House.)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, 

Please allow me a moment to share some news with you concerning an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Diocese of Winona and the Church in the United States directly, and strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith. The federal government, which claims to be “of, by, and for the people,” has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people-the Catholic population and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful. 

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 coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those “services” in the health policies they write; and almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies. 

In so ruling, the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. As a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply. 

We cannot-we will not-comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second- class citizens. Our brothers and sisters of all faiths, and many others of good will, already join us in this important effort to safeguard our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights. In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust She can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less. 

I am, therefore, asking two things of you. First, as a community of faith, we must commit ourselves to some extra time of prayer and fasting. I leave that time open to your good judgment and charity. We must pray that wisdom and justice may prevail and religious liberty may be restored. Without God, our efforts will amount to nothing; with God, our faith can move mountains! 

Secondly, I encourage you to please visit the Bishops’ Conference website at: www.usccb.org/conscience. There you can find a video presentation from Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York and the current President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, concerning the importance of this matter and learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty. 

Sincerely yours in Christ, 

Most Reverend John M. Quinn 

Bishop of Winona

An Assault on Conscience and Religious Freedom

As you may be aware, the Department of Health and Human Services recently directed that all employers, essentially, who provide health care benefits, will be required to provide contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacients to their employees without deductibles or co-pays in one year. The exceptions allowed by this ruling are so narrowly definded that for all intents and purposes only church employees will be exempted. Our Catholic hospitals, Catholic Charities agencies, colleges and universities will be required to submit to a violation of their consciences and their religious liberty violated.

The reality will be that all of us will be required to pay for contraception, sterilizations and abortions in violation of our consciences and infringing on our religious freedom.

This is unprecedented in our country, founded on religious freedom.

My bishop, John M. Quinn from the diocese of Winona alerted all his deacons and priests of this yesterday. I quote:

The decision of the Department of Health and Human Services is a radical incursion into freedom of conscience, which is central to the Constitution. Freedom of religion is not freedom from religion. I ask that we pray for the reversal of this decision and as citizens we let our elected leaders know that the rights of conscience and religious liberty are to be respected and this mandate rescinded.”

I include her also a couple of documents regarding all of this.

Background:

The New Federal Mandate for Contraception/Sterilization Coverage

 

On August 1, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an “interim final rule” to require virtually all private health plans to include coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives, female sterilization procedures, and related “patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”  These are listed among  “preventive services for women” that all health plans will have to include without co-pays or other cost-sharing  –  even if the insurer, the employer or other plan sponsor, or the woman herself object to such coverage.  There have been many protests, including formal comments filed with HHS by many organizations and a petition signed by over 430 Catholic leaders [will insert web address], but to date HHS has not changed its rule. Important points:

 

1. Pregnancy Not a Disease

 

- The mandate treats a healthy pregnancy as a disease in need of “prevention,” like breast cancer or AIDS (which other “preventive services” on HHS’s list do legitimately seek to prevent).    In reality, some of the mandated contraceptives are associated with an increased risk of AIDS, blood clots leading to stroke, and other ailments.  Inclusion of these drugs places HHS’s effort to prevent disease at war with itself.

 

- The claim that greater access to contraceptives will reduce abortions is not supported by the facts (http://old.usccb.org/prolife/issues/contraception/contraception-fact-sheet-3-17-11.pdf).  The contraceptive  mandate’s strongest advocates are groups that perform and promote abortion, who hope a coverage mandate for “prevention” will encourage government and others to see abortion as a “cure.”

 

- Everyone deserves access to basic life-affirming health care, and health care reform is supposed to serve that goal.  The effect of this mandate is just the opposite, as it pressures  organizations to drop their health coverage for employees and others altogether if they have a moral or religious objection to these particular items.

 

2. The Problem of Abortifacient Drugs

 

- By requiring coverage for all drugs approved for contraception and “emergency contraception” by the FDA, the mandate includes drugs that can interfere with implantation in the womb and therefore destroy the early human embryo.

 

- One such drug already approved, “Ella” (ulipristal), is very similar to the abortion drug RU-486 in its formula and its ability to cause an abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy. The new health care reform law forbids HHS to mandate coverage of abortion, but it is doing so here.

 

3. Violating Religious Freedom and Rights of Conscience

 

- The rule has an  incredibly narrow religious exemption for “religious employers” (not insurers, schools with student health plans, or families purchasing insurance).  Even religious employers are exempt only if their purpose is to inculcate religious doctrine, they hire and serve mainly people of their own faith, and they qualify as a church or religious order in a very narrow part of the tax code.  Most religious institutions providing health, educational or charitable services to others have no protection.  Jesus himself would not qualify as “religious enough,” since he healed the needy regardless of religious affiliation and taught followers to do the same (see the parable of the Good Samaritan).

 

- HHS says this exemption is like those enacted by most states that have a contraceptive coverage mandate, but that is false. None of the state mandates covers as wide an array of health plans, and the great majority have broader protection for religious freedom.

 

-  Many federal laws exempt individuals and institutions from having to take part in health services against their moral or religious convictions; some of these laws specifically protect from forced involvement in contraception or sterilization (http://old.usccb.org/prolife/issues/abortion/crmay08.pdf) .  HHS is violating this long federal tradition, and needs to return to it.  Congress should also approve the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” (H.R. 1179, S. 1467) to ensure that this happens.

More sources:

Comment letter to HHS with complete documentation: www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/rulemaking/upload/comments-to-hhs-on-preventive-services-2011-08.pdf

USCCB statement on HHS mandate, August 1, 2011: www.usccb.org/news/2011/11-154.cfm

 

Here is the second document:

Background:

The New Federal Mandate for Contraception/Sterilization Coverage

 

On August 1, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an “interim final rule” to require virtually all private health plans to include coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives, female sterilization procedures, and related “patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”  These are listed among  “preventive services for women” that all health plans will have to include without co-pays or other cost-sharing  –  even if the insurer, the employer or other plan sponsor, or the woman herself object to such coverage.  There have been many protests, including formal comments filed with HHS by many organizations and a petition signed by over 430 Catholic leaders [will insert web address], but to date HHS has not changed its rule. Important points:

 

1. Pregnancy Not a Disease

 

- The mandate treats a healthy pregnancy as a disease in need of “prevention,” like breast cancer or AIDS (which other “preventive services” on HHS’s list do legitimately seek to prevent).    In reality, some of the mandated contraceptives are associated with an increased risk of AIDS, blood clots leading to stroke, and other ailments.  Inclusion of these drugs places HHS’s effort to prevent disease at war with itself.

 

- The claim that greater access to contraceptives will reduce abortions is not supported by the facts (http://old.usccb.org/prolife/issues/contraception/contraception-fact-sheet-3-17-11.pdf).  The contraceptive  mandate’s strongest advocates are groups that perform and promote abortion, who hope a coverage mandate for “prevention” will encourage government and others to see abortion as a “cure.”

 

- Everyone deserves access to basic life-affirming health care, and health care reform is supposed to serve that goal.  The effect of this mandate is just the opposite, as it pressures  organizations to drop their health coverage for employees and others altogether if they have a moral or religious objection to these particular items.

 

2. The Problem of Abortifacient Drugs

 

- By requiring coverage for all drugs approved for contraception and “emergency contraception” by the FDA, the mandate includes drugs that can interfere with implantation in the womb and therefore destroy the early human embryo.

 

- One such drug already approved, “Ella” (ulipristal), is very similar to the abortion drug RU-486 in its formula and its ability to cause an abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy. The new health care reform law forbids HHS to mandate coverage of abortion, but it is doing so here.

 

3. Violating Religious Freedom and Rights of Conscience

 

- The rule has an  incredibly narrow religious exemption for “religious employers” (not insurers, schools with student health plans, or families purchasing insurance).  Even religious employers are exempt only if their purpose is to inculcate religious doctrine, they hire and serve mainly people of their own faith, and they qualify as a church or religious order in a very narrow part of the tax code.  Most religious institutions providing health, educational or charitable services to others have no protection.  Jesus himself would not qualify as “religious enough,” since he healed the needy regardless of religious affiliation and taught followers to do the same (see the parable of the Good Samaritan).

 

- HHS says this exemption is like those enacted by most states that have a contraceptive coverage mandate, but that is false. None of the state mandates covers as wide an array of health plans, and the great majority have broader protection for religious freedom.

 

-  Many federal laws exempt individuals and institutions from having to take part in health services against their moral or religious convictions; some of these laws specifically protect from forced involvement in contraception or sterilization (http://old.usccb.org/prolife/issues/abortion/crmay08.pdf) .  HHS is violating this long federal tradition, and needs to return to it.  Congress should also approve the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” (H.R. 1179, S. 1467) to ensure that this happens.

More sources:

Comment letter to HHS with complete documentation: www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/rulemaking/upload/comments-to-hhs-on-preventive-services-2011-08.pdf

USCCB statement on HHS mandate, August 1, 2011: www.usccb.org/news/2011/11-154.cfm

 Please be aware, and respond.

Quote for the Day

“… the Church in the United States is called, in season and out of season, to proclaim a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering.” — Pope Benedict XVI

Read the entire speech, given to the American bishops ad limina yesterday at this URL:

www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2012/january/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20120119_bishops_usa_en.html

Benedict XVI on Religious Freedom

The Holy Father today spoke to the Diplomatic Corps to the Vatican. This is an annual event to all diplomats accredited to the Holy See. In his address, among other things, he addressed religious freedom. Here is an excerpt:

In this perspective, it is clear that an effective educational programme also calls for respect for religious freedom. This freedom has individual, collective and institutional dimensions. We are speaking of the first of human rights, for it expresses the most fundamental reality of the person. All too often, for various reasons, this right remains limited or is flouted. I cannot raise this subject without first paying tribute to the memory of the Pakistani Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, whose untiring battle for the rights of minorities ended in his tragic death. Sadly, we are not speaking of an isolated case. In many countries Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes. At times they are forced to leave the countries they have helped to build because of persistent tensions and policies which frequently relegate them to being second-class spectators of national life. In other parts of the world, we see policies aimed at marginalizing the role of religion in the life of society, as if it were a cause of intolerance rather than a valued contribution to education in respect for human dignity, justice and peace. In the past year religiously motivated terrorism has also reaped numerous victims, especially in Asia and in Africa; for this reason, as I stated in Assisi, religious leaders need to repeat firmly and forcefully that “this is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction”.4 Religion cannot be employed as a pretext for setting aside the rules of justice and of law for the sake of the intended “good”. In this context I am proud to recall, as I did in my native country, that the Christian vision of man was the true inspiration for the framers of Germany’s Basic Law, as indeed it was for the founders of a united Europe. I would also like to bring up several encouraging signs in the area of religious freedom. I am referring to the legislative amendment whereby the public juridical personality of religious minorities was recognized in Georgia; I think too of the sentence of the European Court of Human Rights upholding the presence of the crucifix in Italian schoolrooms. It is also appropriate for me to make particular mention of Italy at the conclusion of the 150th anniversary of her political unification. Relations between the Holy See and Italy experienced moments of difficulty following the unification. In the course of time, however, concord and the mutual desire for cooperation, each within its proper domain, prevailed for the promotion of the common good. I hope that Italy will continue to foster a stable relationship between Church and State, and thus serve as an example to which other nations can look with respect and interest.

I found his statements,“… the first of human rights, for it expresses the most fundamental reality of the person” (referring to religious freedom) and “Religion cannot be employed as a pretext for setting aside the rules of justice and law for the sake of the intended “good”,  to be worth our consideration.

He goes on to describe the injustices that Christians are facing in many parts of the world, and the marginalization of the role of religion in the life of society, and the misattribution of intolerance to religion in contemporary social life.

Read it all at: http://press.catholica.va/news_services/bulletin/news/28642.php?index=28642&lang=en

Your reactions and thoughts?