Pastoral message | Archbishop Carlson calls on Catholics to fight for conscience rights protections
Today we are facing grave and unprecedented threats to our religious freedom here in the United States. The Obama administration, through the Department of Health and Human Services, has decided to impose a nationwide mandate for coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs — including at least one abortion drug — sterilization procedures, and education and counseling to promote these to "all women with reproductive capacity."The HHS rule includes an exemption for "religious employers" so narrowly crafted that Catholic health care providers, educational institutions and social services agencies would have to be listed in the tax code as a church or similar narrowly defined entity, make the inculcation of religious doctrine their organizational purpose, and largely refuse to hire or serve non-Catholics to be fully eligible.
This attack on our religious freedom is unacceptable to Americans who cherish the principles on which our nation was founded. Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has pointed out the following:
• The contraceptive mandate imposed on health plans by the Department of Health and Human Services violates freedom of conscience, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment and several federal laws.
• The Bill of Rights says we are free to live by our religious beliefs. Forcing all of us to buy coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs that induce abortion, is a radical incursion into freedom of conscience.
• Never before in U.S. history has the federal government forced citizens to directly purchase a product that violates their beliefs.
The Church cannot, and will not, be silent in the face of this grave threat to religious liberty and the sanctity of human life. According to Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, "The bishops of the United States have long supported the goal of universal access to health care. We have encouraged government leaders to advance this goal through morally responsible health care reform. At the same time, we have consistently stated that such reform must not become a vehicle for abandoning or weakening longstanding federal policies that respect unborn human life and rights of conscience." We bishops will speak out boldly — at every opportunity — in protest against all efforts to violate the right to life and the right to act according to one's conscience.
But as Pope Benedict said recently, to be heard the Church's voice must include the voices of "an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity." All too often, the pope and the bishops are not taken seriously. We are "expected" to speak out on these issues, people say; it's part of our job. Only when the Catholic community as a whole joins us in refusing to accept the "radical secularism" of government officials, legislators and judges, will the voice of the Church be heard in all its strength and moral clarity.
I continue to urge everyone who reads these words to write to your representatives in Congress. Insist that respect for the rights of conscience be an integral part of all health care legislation and policy. This request has greater urgency now that the Obama administration has refused to allow Americans who work for religious organizations that serve all people the right to respect their consciences.
I call on every pastor in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to join me in urging Catholics in all 11 counties of our archdiocese to add their voices to those of the American bishops. We will not be silent. We must speak out in defense of life and out of respect for religious liberty.
We will not be silent, but will the voice of the Church be heard? Only if you join us in giving witness to the right to life and the right to religious freedom!
To contact the Department of Health and Human Services:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
Toll Free: 1-877-696-6775
To find contact information for you U.S. representative, see stlouisreview.com/1GL
To find contact information for your U.S. senator, see stlouisreview.com/1GM
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