Keep Vigilant for Religious Freedom


By Deirdre McQuade

July 18, 2014

 On Independence Day, in his homily at the closing Mass of the Fortnight for Freedom, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the Supreme Court’s encouraging decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The decision allows certain devout families to operate their privately-owned businesses without violating their conscientious religious beliefs -- in this case, their objection to providing coverage for drugs and devices that can kill human beings in their very earliest stage of life.

But then Archbishop Kurtz soberly warned us of imminent threats to conscience rights and religious freedom. He called for “a robust and healthy religious freedom in our nation,” and noted the vital need for laws like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which “rightly holds our government to high standards” when it seeks to infringe on that freedom.

Archbishop Kurtz was right – the first major threat was already at the door! Just five days later, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) proposed a sweeping bill (S. 2578) that, cast as a response to the Supreme Court’s narrow Hobby Lobby decision, actually ranged far beyond that decision.  Its passage would mark the first time in history that Congress acted specifically to reduce Americans’ religious freedom.
The bill would empower the federal government to override RFRA and other federal conscience laws when the government mandates any "item or service" in health plans.

It applies not only to employers, but also to employees, employee organizations, insurers, individuals and families. Almost no one providing or purchasing a group or individual health plan could opt out of any new mandate.  For example, a mother would have no recourse in federal law if she objects to her health plan’s federally-mandated coverage of sterilization for her minor daughter.  No one’s freedom is respected here, except that of the government itself.

It also goes far beyond the issues of contraception and sterilization. If the executive branch later chose to add the chemical abortion method RU-486, or even elective surgical abortion, including late-term abortion, to the list of mandated “preventive services,” those who object would have no recourse. Employers and insurers would be forced to provide deeply immoral plans or else face crippling fines. Indeed, the employer penalty for following one’s faith is over 18 times the annual $2,000 fine imposed for not offering any employer coverage at all. How is that supposed to promote health care coverage for all Americans?

On July 16th -- thanks in part to the tens of thousands of you who contacted your senators in just a few days -- the bill stalled for now.  But it failed to reach the needed 60 votes by an uncomfortably narrow margin; and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) immediately acted to ensure that he can bring it up again at any time. So we must remain vigilant.

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to sign up for timely action alerts from the bishops’ pro-life mobilization organization, NCHLA: The bishops have a text campaign to keep you informed, too. Text the word FREEDOM (or LIBERTAD) to 377377 to receive occasional updates. Finally, consider praying the “Prayer for Religious Liberty" on the Fortnight’s prayer resources page, Thank you for your commitment to life and liberty!

Deirdre A. McQuade is Assistant Director for Pro-Life Communications at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the bishops’ activities in defense of conscience rights and religious liberty, visit and follow “People of Life” on Facebook.