Catholic Charities, HHS and Religious Freedom
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 by Communications

There has been a lot of news coverage about the threats to religious freedom contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare.

Unfortunately, this debate has been publicized as a “women’s health issue,” and the typical pro-life and pro-choice groups have lined up on both sides. Yet, viewing what has come to be called the “HHS Mandate” (Health and Human Services Mandate) as being primarily about contraception or abortion is missing the real issue. Make no mistake, the alarming matter at hand is that the government is trying to step in and not only define what it means to be religious, but also force religious believers and institutions to act against their teachings in order to comply with the law.

The main concern with the HHS Mandate portion of ObamaCare is that it attempts to force all employers, including religious employers like Catholic Charities, to provide contraceptives, female sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs to all employees. Employers would be forced to pay for these services even if they have a religious or moral objection to them, or face crippling, multi-million dollar fines.

The Catholic Church is opposed to contraception, sterilization and abortifacients because we believe they interfere with the creation and protection of human life. Forcing us to pay for drugs and medical services that go against our deeply held religious convictions violates our constitutional right to religious freedom guaranteed not only by the First Amendment, but also by subsequent laws and court decisions that establish a clear distinction between Church and State.

The HHS Mandate does include an exemption for religious employers, but the definition of “religious employer” is so narrow that it excludes religiously-based social service agencies, universities, and hospitals. In order to be considered “religious” and earn the exemption, employers must employ only people of their own faith, serve only people of their own faith, and be in the business primarily of inculcating religious teachings. Consequently, because we serve and employ people of all religious backgrounds and we do not proselytize to those in our care, Catholic Charities and other faith-based service providers are not considered “religious enough” to qualify for the exemption.

For Catholics, our service institutions are essential in the exercise of our faith. The government is suggesting that we are not “religious” as we serve the poor, heal the sick, educate children, shelter the homeless, or alleviate suffering. Yet, following our religious beliefs is precisely why we perform all of these life-affirming acts because in so doing, we fulfill our Gospel duty to protect and enhance human life. For the government to tell us otherwise is a clear and unprecedented violation of our religious liberty.

As you can imagine, the result of the HHS Mandate has been the proliferation of hundreds of lawsuits across the country, as not only faith-based employers, but for-profit employers owned by individuals with deeply held religious beliefs, challenge its legality and constitutionality. In a recent ruling in December, a federal appellate court in Washington D.C. forced the Obama Administration to issue new rules by March 31, 2013 that will, hopefully, clarify how it will better accommodate religious employers and protect religious freedom.

I urge Catholics and all Americans concerned with religious liberty to pray that this forthcoming ruling will indeed protect our religious freedom and enable the Church’s essential institutions like Catholic Charities to continue our Gospel mission to love and care for our brothers and sisters in need.

For if we don’t protect our religious liberty now, what might be next?

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