It is not often that I find it necessary to write to you about pressing public issues. Today is different. I am not sure if you have heard of this or not, but the US Catholic Bishops are taking a very strong stand against the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services rules related to Obama Care. Specifically, this past week HHS announced that all health care plans offered in the USA will be required to provide “free” coverage for abortion, sterilization, contraception, etc. This means that all employers (including my company, Catholic Hospitals, Dioceses, Christian Schools, etc.) will have to choose to either provide healthcare plans that include these “services” or fail to offer healthcare and pay the Obama Care penalty ($) – forcing the employees onto the government-sponsored healthcare plans where these “services” will be provided by tax payer money. Sound like a fool’s choice? As you will see below – the Bishops are clear – this is a violation of our first amendment right of religious liberty. In my lifetime I have never seen the Bishops issue a statement like this. This is serious – I ask you to take the time to read this and inform your friends. We have never before, as Christians, been called upon to take a stand like we are now.
Some background: This has come after two years of discussions between the Bishop’s conference and HHS. During this time our religious objections were given a lot of lip service (and several times the administration make promises to change the language) – but in the end HHS has decided that they do not care about the concerns of Christians and Jews and have rejected the Bishop’s most recent appeal.
Here is the link to the Bishop’s conference web site (take a minute to watch Archbishop Dolan’s video).
Here is the text of the main language in the Bishop’s Conference letter that was published last week and read at most masses in the USA (in Altoona/Johnstown ours will be published this weekend I am told).
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I write to you concerning an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly, and that 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 been 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 Obama 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. And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Obama 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. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain 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.
And therefore, I would ask of you two things. First, as a community of faith we must commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored. Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible. Second, I would also recommend visiting www.usccb.org/conscience, to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty, and how to contact Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the Obama Administration's decision.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Alexander K. Sample Most Reverend Alexander K. Sample Bishop of Marquette
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh is taking a leading role in communication about this issue – check it out. Scroll down to the entry titled: “To hell with you.” Awesome! But importantly, have you ever heard a Bishop speak this way? These guys are not kidding and they are done messing around.
Some are recommending a law to protect religious exemptions:
Cannot help but point out that any legislation mandating a religious exemption, while apparently necessary, is redundant to the religious freedom and freedom of conscience rights we already have enshrined in the 1st Amendment to the constitution. It should not be necessary to pass another law to say the constitution is valid.
I hope you will support our Pastors, Bishops, and all religious leaders who are taking a stand against this ridiculous executive branch over-reach. They need to now that we have their backs. I believe that we are at the time where it is up to us to say NO. I watched a TV discussion last night on this topic that included a Rabi, and Evangelical pastor, a Mormon and a Catholic. All agreed – we must stand together.
What can we do?