Editorial | Attack on religious freedom unacceptable

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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Last week the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would not rescind its mandate that nearly all health plans provide, free of charge, contraceptives, sterilization procedures and abortifacients to "all women with reproductive capacity."

The mandate provides for religious institutions an exemption so narrowly defined that nearly every Catholic organization — including dioceses, hospitals, schools and charitable foundations — would not meet the standard. The only way to meet the government's absurd exemption is if we hire only Catholics and serve only Catholics — a practice that would be grossly counter to Jesus' mandate feed the hungry, clothe the poor, visit the imprisoned and welcome the stranger (see Matthew 25:31-41).

The nature of health plan funding means that those of us who pay premiums — that would include most employers and employees — will be forced to pay for drugs and procedures that are contrary to our religious beliefs. Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called it "literally unconscionable" to force citizens to pay for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs against their will.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, in his response to the mandate, wrote: "This attack on our religious freedom is unacceptable to Americans who cherish the principles on which our nation was founded."

Rather than listen to the requests of the millions of Catholics in America who prefer not to be forced to violate our consciences, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius — in an act of profound insensitivity — instead offered religious organizations a one-year grace period before being forced to comply with the morally unacceptable mandate.

"In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences." Cardinal-designate Dolan said.

This move by the Obama administration is grossly counter to our fundamental right to free exercise of religion. It is, quite simply, moral dictatorship. It is an imperious decision made by bureaucrats who have no respect for the sanctity of human life or for the fundamental right of free people in a free society to act according to their consciences.

We detest the Obama administration's blatant disregard for life and liberty. If this mandate remains unchanged, many schools, hospitals, social service agencies and other faith-based organizations that serve diverse, frequently poor and vulnerable segments of our society may be forced to stop providing health care to their employees rather than include coverage of morally unacceptable "preventive services" — a phrase properly applied to disease, not the miracle of pregnancy as Sebelius does.

Archbishop Carlson has called on every Catholic in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and all people of good will, to add their voices to those of the American bishops. "We will not be silent," the Archbishop insists. "We must speak out in defense of life and out of respect for religious liberty."

If our government is permitted to trample a most basic right — the right to exercise our free will according to our conscience — then we risk losing all freedom. 

SPEAK UP

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

hhs.gov/ContactUs.html

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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