October 11, 2013

Editorial

The Church continues to fight the HHS mandate

The Affordable Healthcare Act (also known as Obamacare) is in the news again, and once again the Catholic Church is caught on the horns of a dilemma not of its own making.

The dilemma is that, on the one hand, we Catholics wholeheartedly affirm the need for affordable health care for all. In fact, our Church has been leading the charge on this issue for nearly a century. On the other hand, we cannot in good conscience accept government regulations that seriously restrict and burden our religious freedom.

In the words of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Catholics—our parents and grandparents, religious sisters, brothers and priests—were among the first at the table to advance and provide health care, and now we are being burdened because of the same Catholic values that compel us into these ministries! All in a country that puts religious liberty first on the list of its most cherished freedoms.”

The cardinal goes on to say, “This is a fight that we did not ask for and would rather not be in, but it’s certainly one that we won’t run from.”

The Obama administration has dug in its heels and refused to compromise on three key issues of religious liberty: 1) The HHS mandate’s narrow definition of “religious employer” arbitrarily distinguishes between houses of worship and ministries of service; 2) Ministries of service—including hospitals, social service agencies, schools and all other types of faith-based organizations are treated as “second class” entities with no acknowledgement of the religious values that are at the heart of their missions; 3) No relief at all is available to business owners whose fundamental values (religious or social) put them at odds with the so-called preventive services that the mandate requires them to provide.

Cardinal Dolan vows that the Church will continue to fight against the efforts of a secular government agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to impose its values on religious organization and people who are “conscientious objectors” when it comes to certain provisions of health care reform.

“We are continuing our efforts in Congress and in the courts, and we are confident that our rights under the Constitution and other laws protecting religious freedom will eventually be vindicated,” Cardinal Dolan says. “While much remains uncertain, it is plain that the HHS mandate lessens the ability of our ministries to give full-throated witness to our faith, a central mission of all Catholic apostolates.”

Full-throated witness includes the right to object as a matter of conscience to practices that are contrary to our values. Not unlike pacifists in wartime who refuse to bear arms but are willing to provide alternative forms of national service, there really ought to be ways for “ministries of service” and individual “conscientious objectors” to opt out of aspects of health care reform that are unacceptable to them. This is what religious liberty is all about. It’s a fundamental American value that we dare not neglect if we want to remain a free people!

“We are united in our resolve to continue to defend our right to live by our faith and our duty to serve the poor, heal the sick, keep our apostolates strong and faithful, and insure our people,” Cardinal Dolan says. In doing so, the cardinal is giving voice to an important Catholic principle: The both/and rather than the either/or. We stand for both affordable health care and religious liberty. And we assert that our constitutional right to religious freedom extends to both houses of worship and ministries of service. These are matters of fundamental importance to us—as Catholics and as Americans.

Catholics, unite! Write to Congress and the president. Express your dismay and displeasure at the false dichotomy that has been created by arbitrarily connecting universal health care with unacceptable restrictions on religious liberty! Confirm by your words and actions that we Catholics do not divide our houses of worship (our parish communities) and our ministries of service (schools, health care and social service agencies).

All spring from the Great Commission of Jesus (the only mandate that we find universally binding) to extend to all nations and peoples the mission and ministry of Jesus—to pray, to teach, to heal and to serve.

—Daniel Conway

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