Fighting the Good Fight for Religious Freedom

One part of the HHS mandate sadly goes into effect today.

You probably know all about the mandate by now.  It’s the decree from the Secretary of Health and Human Services that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires employer health care plans to include contraceptive services for women, including drugs called abortifacients. Although, in America’s finest tradition, the bill allows an exemption for religious reasons, it presumes to define just what a church’s ministry must be to qualify, a dramatic and unprecedented intrusion into the integrity of all faiths.  My brother bishops and I – in welcome collaboration with other religious leaders – think that this mandate is wrong and misguided and have tried to work with the Administration to correct it.

What’s most troubling about the HHS mandate is that it carves out a religious exemption that is so narrowly drawn that most Catholic agencies – including Catholic Charities, hospitals, nursing homes, universities, and potentially many others – would not qualify.

How does a Catholic or other religious entity qualify for this exemption?  It must be a non-profit organization under certain IRS guidelines, and must meet all of the following criteria:

  1.  The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization;
  2. The organization primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the organization;
  3. The organization serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization.

Got that?  The federal government is graciously allowing your parish church to consider itself Catholic.  But, not much else would qualify.


A Catholic hospital founded and still sponsored by nuns, striving to carry out our Savior’s command to care for the sick?  Sorry, not Catholic enough.  No religious freedom here!  After all, its purpose is not the inculcation of religious values, and it hardly asks for a person’s religion before admitting a patient.

A Catholic Charities homeless shelter, providing a bed, a shower, and a nutritious meal?  Sorry, not Catholic enough.  No religious freedom here!  After all, it serves all seeking help, regardless of their religious beliefs.  (Would the government prefer us to turn away anyone who can’t produce a baptismal certificate and recite the Nicene Creed?)

A Catholic high school founded and still run by a religious order, which has proudly educated young men, preparing them to succeed in college, in the work place, as husbands and fathers?   Sorry, not Catholic enough.   No religious freedom here!  After all, the student populations is more than 50% non-Catholic.

Yes, the Archdiocese of New York has joined dozens of others in filing a lawsuit against the administration and HHS, arguing that the mandate is unconstitutional.  And, yes, the administration has granted a one-year reprieve to religious agencies whose conscience would be violated by this mandate.  (That’s right – the government acknowledges that this will be a problem for many religious agencies.  But their response is, essentially, “too bad.”)

What will happen when the year is up?

I suppose one option would be for those agencies to stop offering health insurance to their employees, and pay a $2000 per employee penalty.  While some would argue that the agencies would, in fact, save money by choosing this option, it hardly seems to be the right and just way to treat your co-workers, does it?

Another option is to continue to offer health insurance, but, honoring our conscience, not include these objectionable services.   There would be a $100 fine per day for each person who qualified for the coverage.  Let’s assume that an agency has 50 people for which it would be subject to this penalty.    At $100 per day, per person, over the course of the year it would pay a penalty of $1,825,000.  ($100 x 50 people x 365 days).  That’s a steep penalty from the government in order to try and convince religious agencies to turn their back on their conscience. That’s money that will then not go to serve those in need.  Many of our services could not survive this heavy penalty.

A third option, I suppose, is to capitulate and accept the strangling mandate…I don’t want to go there.  We just finished a Fortnight for Freedom, and the saints we honored – Saint Thomas More, Saint John Fisher, Saint John the Baptist, Saints Peter and Paul – would not want us to go there, either.

Over the course of the coming year, the effort to protect religious liberty and the freedom of conscience will continue.  In the end, this is not about bishops, it is not about Catholics, it is not about contraceptives.  It is about the ideals our nation was founded upon: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  You can’t do much better than the First Amendment to the Constitution.  The founding fathers got it right.  The HHS mandate gets it wrong.  We are fighting to correct that wrong, in order to make sure that religious freedom continues for the generations to come after us.

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106 Responses to “Fighting the Good Fight for Religious Freedom”

  1. Freda Muldoon says:

    Dear Cardinal Dolan, As we — the lay faithful who heeded your call to step out of our own comfort zones to defend the faith by resisting the HHS mandate — as we suffer for our efforts even now — we shall not soon forget the picture you now propose to our minds, of Your Eminence greeting and smiling and laughing it up with our persecutor. The NY Post says this is a “classy” invitation — but it is only “classy” to those who sow class warfare and division in our Church. We urge you to be our good Shepherd now. PLEASE do not betray us — even in appearance. Please rescind the invitation for the sake of the flock.

  2. Maria Leano says:

    Dear Cardinal,

    this is an article I believe crystallizes the argument for the average Catholic. It was published by the newspaper of the Diocese of Orange (California).

  3. Heather Wilson says:

    To Irene – very well said. The “war on religious freedom” propaganda has definitely served to incite the “faithful.”. What will be interesting to observe in the months ahead is how the bishops will deal with continuing to promote a self-righteous right wing agenda, demonizing President Obama, when Romney’s VP choice is so blatantly hostile to the needs of the poor and vulnerable in this country.
    To Tom – we are not talking about simple disagreement here. If you open your mind and read the replies in this blog, listen for the hate spewing from the mouths of all these self-righteous “Christians.” Can you honestly tell me this is how Jesus would want us to be in the world? Intolerant. Exclusive. Judgemental. Harsh. Self-righteous. Rude. Don’t think so. It is, as Irene correctly pointed out, a result of the bishops allowing the Church to be co-opted by the religious right and spewing Fox news sound bytes regarding a war on religious freedom, blah blah blah. With regard to which one of us should leave – don’t fret – I already have – with great sadness but absolutely no regrets. I occasionally venture to this website and my decision to leave is confirmed time and time again as I read the continued hate (yes hate) from the “faithful.”.

  4. C J says:

    So Heather
    Where did you find perfect people, a church who are ‘tolerant, not harsh or rude?

    Sad that you left the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus the Christ of God.

  5. John says:

    Dear Cardinal Dolan – i sympathize with the difficulty you face regarding these difficult decisions. When i consider Jesus’ willingness to associate with sinners, i usually consider how obstinate or open the person may be to conversion. The president seems to be more of the former.

    If you are correct about Jesus’ openness to others no matter what (as your example seems to suggest) then there doesn’t seem to be any basis for our notion of causing scandal. Woohoo! It’s nice not to have to worry anymore about that!

    However, Jesus was a polarizing figure and He did turn over the Temple tables. He also warned us about who we associate with.

    I think the primary cocern for those who think the decision is the wrong one has to do with the difficulty we see with many Catholics who are desperately looking for reasons to vote again for the president.

  6. G. W. Markle says:

    The greatest threat to America, and indeed to the rest of world, comes from the staunch advocates of right wing ideology, and I must submit this warning to you: There is a grave problem with the right wing movement, in that; they seem to possess a distorted sense of entitlement. They’ve set themselves apart, and seem to think that their faith gives them the right to view the world from a platitude of conceit, through condescending eyes, and with a false sense of superiority. They actually believe themselves to be superior beings, with a manifest destiny and some strange notion that God is on their side. A people with a desire to conquer, under the false guise of Christianity, seeking to dominate in the name of Christ, their view of humanity being reduced to nothing more than a matter of “us” and “them”.

    What they fail to realize is; if the Christ you believe in leads you to view other humans as lesser beings, then you are a follower of the anti-Christ. The plain truth is; God doesn’t have a religion and God doesn’t discriminate. Any religion that professes to be the only true religion, or that they‘re special in the eyes of God preaches false doctrine. If the Spirit of God is truly with you, it will only be known by acts of “unconditional” love and charity. No religion can claim exclusive rights to God. He belongs to all that He has created, and to foster a belief in “us” and “them” is to divide humanity, not unite it.

    And so it will be in The End, that those who have set themselves apart from their fellow man will find that they have set themselves apart from God. The worth of a soul will only be measured by how much it has loved, nothing more, nothing less. Woe to those who have taken the widow’s mite and built castles and empires in His name. They have incurred a great accountability, their suffering will be unending.

    Even Jesus will not claim to be Christian, but will only proclaim the glory of the Father. And when He returns they will shout: “Here we are Lord!” And He will respond: “I never knew you”. They have forsaken the Word and have become prisoners of the Numbers.

    Those who have put themselves first will be last.