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On August 1, the HHS mandate requiring health care coverage of morally objectionable services went into effect for most employers. In an August 3 letter to Congress, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo stated that the time is overdue for Congress to pass corrective legislation. See: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/Cardinal-DiNardo-s-August-2012-Letter-to-Congress-Regarding-Conscience-Protection.pdf .
NCHLA has updated its Action Alert in support of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. Members of House and Senate are urged to support and work for the enactment of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act this year. See: nchla.org/actiondisplay.asp?ID=292.
Contact Members during August Recess
Congress is scheduled to begin the August recess, and is slated to return September 10 after the conventions. When in their local states and districts, Members form judgments about what is important to constituents. Please make your voice heard. Decisions are being made now about what will happen during the remaining days of the current Congress.
• Meetings: In addition to e-mails and phone calls recommended in the Action Alert, set up meetings with Members at their local offices. Such meetings are an effective tool for leaders to communicate their concern about the need to pass conscience protection legislation. Please do what you can to arrange meetings of this kind.
• Attendance at Public Appearances: Urge pro-life people to attend town meetings and other public events at which Members make appearances. These venues are ways for all constituents to communicate their concerns directly to Members.
• Participation in Public Debate: Letters-to-the-editor in local papers and participation in radio or TV call-in shows can serve to publicly demonstrate within the community support for conscience legislation.
WASHINGTON—The U.S. bishops have issued a call to action to defend religious liberty and urged laity to work to protect the First Freedom of the Bill of Rights. They outlined their position in “Our First, Most Cherished Freedom.” The document was developed by the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), approved for publication by the USCCB Administrative Committee March 13, and published in English and Spanish April 12.
The document can be found at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/our-first-most-cherished-liberty.cfm.
“We have been staunch defenders of religious liberty in the past. We have a solemn duty to discharge that duty today,” the bishops said in the document, “… for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad.”
The document lists concerns that prompt the bishops to act now. Among concerns are:
• The Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate forcing all employers, including religious organizations, to provide and pay for coverage of employees’ contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs even when they have moral objections to them. Another concern is HHS’s defining which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty,
• Driving Catholic foster care and adoption services out of business. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia and Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities adoption or foster care services out of business by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.
• Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services. Despite years of excellent performance by the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require USCCB to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching. Religious institutions should not be disqualified from a government contract based on religious belief, and they do not lose their religious identity or liberty upon entering such contracts. Recently a federal court judge in Massachusetts turned religious liberty on its head when he declared that such a disqualification is required by the First Amendment—that the government violates religious liberty by allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a manner consistent with their beliefs on contraception and abortion.
The statement lists other examples such as laws punishing charity to undocumented immigrants; a proposal to restructure Catholic parish corporations to limit the bishop’s role; and a state university’s excluding a religious student group because it limits leadership positions to those who share the group’s religion.
Other topics include the history and deep resonance of Catholic and American visions of religious freedom, the recent tactic of reducing freedom of religion to freedom of worship, the distinction between conscientious objection to a just law, and civil disobedience of an unjust law, the primacy of religious freedom among civil liberties, the need for active vigilance in protecting that freedom, and concern for religious liberty among interfaith and ecumenical groups and across partisan lines.
The bishops decry limiting religious freedom to the sanctuary.
“Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans,” they said. “Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith?”
“This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue,” they said.
The bishops highlighted religious freedom abroad.
“Our obligation at home is to defend religious liberty robustly, but we cannot overlook the much graver plight that religious believers, most of them Christian, face around the world,” they said. “The age of martyrdom has not passed. Assassinations, bombings of churches, torching of orphanages—these are only the most violent attacks Christians have suffered because of their faith in Jesus Christ. More systematic denials of basic human rights are found in the laws of several countries, and also in acts of persecution by adherents of other faiths.”
The document ends with a call to action.
“What we ask is nothing more than that our God-given right to religious liberty be respected. We ask nothing less than that the Constitution and laws of the United States, which recognize that right, be respected.” They specifically addressed several groups: the laity, those in public office, heads of Catholic charitable agencies, priests, experts in communication, and urged each to employ the gifts and talents of its members for religious liberty.
The bishops called for “A Fortnight for Freedom,” the two-week period from June 21 to July 4—beginning with the feasts of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher and ending with Independence Day—to focus “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” for religious liberty. They also asked that, later in the year, the feast of Christ the King be “a day specifically employed by bishops and priests to preach about religious liberty, both here and abroad.”
Members of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty include Archbishop-designate William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman; and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, of Philadelphia; Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta; Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul–Minneapolis; Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi, of Mobile, Alabama: Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle; Bishop John O. Barres of Allentown, Pennsylvania; Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas; Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix; Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois. Consultants include Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton. California; Bishop Joseph P. McFadden of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne–South Bend, Indiana.
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As the controversy over the Health and Human Services’ (HHS) mandate continues, Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski is asking all people of faith to pray and fast during Lent for change.
Last month Bishop Bootkoski, together with bishops throughout the United States, led a campaign to have the mandate repealed. In his statement, the bishop asked all people to voice their moral objections to the mandate. The Obama Administration relented with minor changes.
“Their ‘accommodation’ does not change the fundamental principle and precedent challenged by the recent HHS mandate, namely, the right of all citizens to follow their consciences in all aspects of their lives and the freedom of religiously-affiliated institutions to be exempt from supporting activities or supplying services that violate their core beliefs,” the bishop said.
In his latest initiative to have the mandate rescinded, Bishop Bootkoski wrote to his pastors: “As a people of faith, I believe it is essential that we commit ourselves to prayer and fasting for this cause. I ask that you join with me and others across the diocese and the nation in praying the ‘Prayer for Religious Liberty’ at the conclusion of the Prayer of the Faithful or before the final hymn at all weekend Masses throughout the Lenten season.”
He is also urging the faithful to stay informed. Updates on what the bishops are calling a violation of religious liberty are posted on www.usccb.org/conscience.
The bishop said parishioners responded positively to his initial statement, which was read at parishes last month, and thanked pastors for their support.
He added that he is hopeful that, with prayer and fasting, “We can change the hearts and minds of our leaders.”
— March 13, 2012
March 1, 2012
Last August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a list of “preventive services for women” to be mandated in almost all private health plans under the new health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The mandated services include sterilization, all FDA-approved birth control (such as the IUD, Depo-Provera, ‘morning-after’ pills, and the abortion-inducing drug Ella), and “education and counseling” to promote these among all “women of reproductive capacity.” HHS’s rule allowed only a very narrow exemption for a “religious employer.” Catholic organizations providing education, health care and charitable services to all in need could not qualify for the exemption.
On February 10, despite a storm of protest, President Obama adopted this policy as a final rule “without change” (Federal Register, 2/15/12, 8725). Religious organizations that cannot qualify for the exemption will have an extra year to comply; but before the end of that period, an additional rule will be issued to make sure that their employees receive the mandated coverage despite the employer’s objection.
In a February 15 letter to the Senate, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, wrote: “In short, we are back to square one -- except that the rule so many hoped would change to accommodate Americans’ right of conscience is no longer subject to change, except by legislation.” See: nchla.org/datasource/idocuments/S1467-2-15-12.pdf.
The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179) will ensure that those who participate in the health care system “retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions.” At this time, Representatives should be urged to support this measure and work for its passage. For co-sponsors, please check H.R. 1179 at: thomas.loc.gov.
ACTION: Contact your U.S. Representative by e-mail, phone, or FAX letter:
Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at: 202-224-3121, or call your Representative’s local office.
Send an e-mail through NCHLA’s Grassroots Action Center at: nchla.org/actiondisplay.asp?ID=292.
Additional contact info can be found on Members’ web sites at: www.house.gov.
MESSAGE: “Please co-sponsor and support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179). The Obama administration’s decision to mandate coverage of sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs that can cause an abortion, makes passage of this measure especially urgent. Please ensure that the religious liberty and conscience rights of all participants in our nation’s health care system are respected.”
WHEN: Now is the time to build support and urge a positive vote. Please act today! Thanks!