BISHOPS URGE CONGRESS TO ACT ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY CRISIS IN HEALTH CARE BEFORE YEAR’S END
Cardinal DiNardo highlights problems for religious institutions, individuals
Sees Administration policy’s approach to religious freedom most grudging, arbitrary ever
Congressional action defending religious freedom long overdue
WASHINGTON—Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called on Congress to address the crisis in health care sparked by the Obama administration’s contraceptive/sterilization coverage mandate in an August 3 letter to members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
The mandate, which was announced a year ago by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, he said, “would forbid Americans to provide or purchase health coverage unless it includes female surgical sterilizations, all FDA-approved prescription drugs and devices for preventing pregnancy – including drugs and devices which can destroy a human life at its earliest stages – and ‘counseling and education’ to promote these to all women and girls of childbearing age.”
Cardinal DiNardo called the mandate “unprecedented and misguided federal policy.” He added that “most of those who initiate or renew employee health plans as well as student plans at educational institutions after August 1 must comply with this mandate, notwithstanding their moral or religious objections, or drop their health coverage altogether as some colleges have now begun to do.”
“For our part, the Catholic bishops of the United States continue to advocate for life-affirming health care for all, especially for poor and vulnerable people. We do not see this policy as a step in that direction,” he said.
“Despite widespread opposition to this coercive policy by religious organizations, lawmakers and the general public, Congress has still taken no action to counter it. The time for such action is, to say the least, overdue,” he said.
“The fundamental importance of the religious freedom issue at stake demands a timely congressional response,” he said. “Through this mandate, the Administration is promoting an approach to religious freedom that is more grudging and arbitrary than any yet seen in federal law.”
He added that a minority of religious employers – those which, among other things, engage primarily in prayer and preaching – are said to be exempt from the mandate. “By contrast, religious organizations which live out their faith by reaching out to all in need with health care and other humanitarian services are deemed ‘not religious enough’ for the exemption. Many, though not all, of these organizations will qualify for a one-year delay in enforcement, after which partial control of their health plans will be handed over by the government to others willing to implement the mandate.”
Cardinal DiNardo highlighted the plight of employers who may have moral or religious objections to some or all of the mandated services, people who are “devout individuals and families who own and operate businesses, who without any word of protest from employees have been offering health coverage that does not violate their moral convictions.” With the mandate “their longtime practice will be contrary to federal law, punished by a tax of $100 a day per employee and other penalties,” he said. “In court, the Administration has insisted that these companies are entirely ‘secular’ with no claim on religious freedom. In effect, if an organization is ‘for profit,’ it is not allowed to be ‘for’ anything else. The owners who have imbued their companies with faith-based commitments to employee well-being, community service and social responsibility strongly disagree. And at a time of grave concern over business and banking scandals, does anyone think that rewarding businesses obsessed solely with company profits is sound government policy?”
Cardinal DiNardo noted several current lawsuits opposing the mandate brought by institutions and individuals.
“Vindication of the fundamental rights of these individuals and organizations may take years of litigation,” he said.
“The validity of the religious freedom claim against the contraceptive mandate is clearer than ever – even for those supposedly ‘secular’ companies whose rights are completely ignored under that mandate,” he said. “Yet timely and uniform protection of these rights cannot be expected from the current lengthy judicial process. Therefore the Catholic bishops of the United States and many others fervently hope Congress will address this urgent and fundamental issue before it completes its business this year.”