A serious threat to religious freedom

| September 15, 2011
Archbishop Nienstedt

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

I fully intended to publish “Part Two” of my commentary on the marvelous experience of World Youth Day in today’s column. I now hope to do so in the next issue.

But, in the meantime, there has arisen a very serious threat to the religious freedom of all religious institutions, especially our Catholic health care programs and Catholic social services, a threat posed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Under HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (a Catholic), the department is imposing a “preventative services” mandate requiring all private health plans — including ones administered by the church and its agents — to provide coverage for surgical sterilizations, prescription contraceptives approved by the FDA, and “education and counseling” for “all women of reproductive capacity.”

Seismic change in approach

Unfortunately, this is the logical result of a seismic change in this administration’s approach to religious groups involved in providing social services to, among others, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the immigrant.

It began when President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton started using the term “freedom of worship” as distinct from what we have always known as “freedom of religion.”

Under the concept of “freedom of worship,” church agencies are restricted to hiring employees only from their own denomination and providing services for clients only from their own denomination.

Such a concept restricts Christian believers in their charitable outreach to society and, in effect, encloses them within their own sanctuaries.

This is radical secularism at its epitome. It is an affront to the centuries of Christian service offered by churches to clients of all backgrounds, color or creed. And, it is the slippery slope to a completely secularized state wherein people of religious conviction will be required to privatize their beliefs and in doing so, at least for Catholics, render their faith meaningless.

Action steps

I highly recommend two steps.  The first is to write Secretary Sebelius (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, D.C. 20201) or your congressional officers to oppose this mandate and to demand that it be rescinded. These letters need to be received before the end of September.

Secondly, letters should also be sent to federal congressional representatives to support a bill, the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act,” (H.R. 1179, S. 1467), that would protect conscience rights in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). This legislation is needed even more so in face of HHS’s mandate to require all private institutions to cover contraceptives and sterilizations.

As Cardinal DiNardo, chair of the USCCB Pro-Life Committee, wrote last week:

“Those who sponsor, purchase and issue health plans should not be forced to violate their deeply held moral and religious convictions in order to take part in the health care system or provide for the needs of their families, their employees or those most in need.  To force such an unacceptable choice would be as much a threat to universal access to health care as it is to freedom of conscience.”

(The cardinal’s letter can be found online at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/preventive-letter-to-house-2011-09.pdf).

Lesson from history

The “preventive services” mandate is a significant threat to religious freedom that should put all Catholics on notice that there are many in government and in our culture who will sacrifice long-held and cherished liberties on the altar of so-called reproductive autonomy.

I ask you to join with me today in taking action to preserve our religious freedom and conscience protection.  History reminds us that “evil triumphs when good people do nothing.”

This is a time for believers to act and let our representatives in government know that this is an unacceptable course of action!

God bless you!

Note: For more information on this topic, visit http://www.usccb.org/conscience.

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Category: That They May All Be One

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