Bishops Promise To Continue ‘Vigorous Efforts’ Against HHS Violations Of Religious Freedom In Health Care Reform Mandate

March 14, 2012 By Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON—The U.S. bishops arestrongly united in their ongoing and determined efforts to protect religious freedom, the AdministrativeCommittee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said in aMarch 14 statement.

The Administrative Committee,chaired by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, isthe highest authority of the bishops’ conference outside the semi-annualsessions of the full body of bishops. The Committee’s membership consists ofthe elected chairmen of all the USCCB permanent committees and an electedbishop representative from each of the geographic regions of the USCCB.

Thefull statement can be found at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/Admin-Religious-Freedom.pdf and www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/march-14-statement-on-religious-freedom-and-hhs-mandate.cfm

TheAdministrative Committee said it was “strongly unified and intensely focused inits opposition to the various threats to religious freedom in our day.” Thebishops will continue their vigorous work of education on religious freedom,dialogue with the executive branch, legislative initiatives and efforts in thecourts to defend religious freedom. They promised a longer statement on the principlesat the heart of religious freedom, which will come later from the bishops’ AdHoc Committee on Religious Liberty.

The bishops noted that the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that forces all private healthplans to provide coverage of sterilization and contraceptives – includingabortion-inducing drugs – called for an immediate response. Of particularconcern, they said, are a religious exemption from the mandate that the bishopsdeem “arbitrarily narrow” and an “unspecified and dubious future ‘accommodation’’’offered to other religious organizations that are denied the exemption.

Thebishops thanked supporters from the Catholic community and beyond “who havestood firmly with us in our vigorous opposition to this unjust and illegal mandate.”

“Itis your enthusiastic unity in defense of religious freedom that has made such adramatic and positive impact in this historic public debate.”

Thebishops said this dispute is not about access to contraceptives but about the government’sforcing the Church to provide them. Their concerns are not just for theCatholic Church but also for “those who recognize that their cherished beliefsmay be next on the block.”

“Indeed,this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it isinstead about the federal government forcing the Church – consisting of itsfaithful and all but a few of its institutions – to act against Churchteachings,” they said.

TheChurch has worked for universal healthcare in the United States since 1919,they added, and said the current issue “is not a Republican or Democratic, aconservative or liberal issue; it is an American issue.”

Thebishops called the HHS mandate “an unwarranted government definition ofreligion,” with government deciding who is a religious employer deservingexemption from the law.

“Theintroduction of this unprecedented defining of faith communities and their ministrieshas precipitated this struggle for religious freedom,” the bishops said.

“Governmenthas no place defining religion and religious ministry,” they said.

“If thisdefinition is allowed to stand, it will spread throughout federal law, weakeningits healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity,”they said.

Thebishops said the government’s foray into church governance “where governmenthas no legal competence or authority” is beyond disturbing. Those deemed by HHSnot to be “religious employers,” the bishops said, “will be forced bygovernment to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions.This is not only an injustice in itself, but it also undermines the effectiveproclamation of those teachings to the faithful and to the world.”

Thebishops also called the HHS mandate “a violation of personal civilrights.”The new mandate creates a classof people “with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their dailylives, strive constantly to live in accordance with their faith and values,”the bishops said. “They too face a government mandate to aid in providing ‘services’contrary to those values – whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for,insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees, or asinsurers themselves – without even the semblance of exemptions.”

Thebishops called for the Catholic faithful, and all people of good willthroughout the nation to join them in prayer and penance “for our leaders andfor the complete protection of our First Freedom – religious liberty.”

“Prayer is the ultimate source ofour strength,” the bishops said, “for without God we can do nothing. But withGod all things are possible.”

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Keywords: religious freedom, religious liberty, Health andHuman Services, Administrative Committee, USCCB, United States Conference ofCatholic Bishops, abortifacients, insurance, Catholic, White House, Congress,civil rights, sterilization

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