Posts Tagged ‘Healthcare Mandate’

Fighting the Good Fight for Religious Freedom

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

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.

Consider:

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.

Assault on Religious Freedom

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Today, I came across Michael Goodwin’s column in the New York Post on the recent media coverage of the health care mandate. I would like to share it with you. Here is an excerpt:

Do the New York Times’ attacks on the Catholic Church have any limits? Do the paper’s editorial writers have any sense of decency?

To judge by the latest screed, the answers are no and no.

Under the Monday headline “The Politics of Religion,” the paper’s editorial page called lawsuits by 43 Catholic groups, including 13 dioceses, “bogus” and “a dramatic stunt, full of indignation but built on air.”

The suits aim to stop the federal government from forcing religious organizations to provide free contraception, abortion drugs and sterilization services as part of ObamaCare. The plaintiffs, including New York’s Cardinal Dolan and the University of Notre Dame, say the requirements are “immoral” under Church teaching and claim the mandate violates their religious liberty.

You can read Michael Goodwin’s column here.

Insights from the Press

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

I would like to share two well-written editorials about the recent lawsuit against the healthcare mandate. The first editorial was printed in yesterday’s New York Daily News.

Here is an excerpt:

The church’s positions on contraception and abortion have been clear from time immemorial. While many Americans — perhaps most — live by other codes, Catholic teaching holds that intervening in the procreative process and terminating pregnancy violate the sanctity of life.

Dismissing that principle of faith, the administration decreed that, under the Obama health reform program, even church-related employers must provide insurance coverage whose benefits include not only contraception, but contraception without any payments by patients.

Click here to read the whole editorial.

The second editorial was printed in the Wall Street Journal.  (The online version is password protected. You would need an account to view it.)

Here is an excerpt from the editorial:

The famously liberal Notre Dame gave President Obama an honorary degree in 2009 despite his support for abortion rights. At the time, Notre Dame President John Jenkins applauded Mr. Obama’s “willingness to engage with those who disagree with him and encourage people of faith to bring their beliefs to the public debate.”

So much for that. The lawsuit signals that far from engaging with “those who disagree,” Mr. Obama has rebuffed Catholic leaders in their attempt to work out a compromise over the Administration’s mandate that all insurance plans offer contraception and sterilization services, including abortifacients. “If the government wants to provide such services,” Father Jenkins said in a statement Monday, “means are available that do not compel religious organizations to serve as its agents.”

But the Administration deliberately rejected any such means, exempting a religious employer only if it is a nonprofit whose goal is the “inculcation of religious values” and which primarily employs and serves people who share the same values. That leaves out legions of parochial schools, universities, hospitals, soup kitchens and other charities whose beliefs are also threatened by the mandate.

You can read the whole editorial here. Again, you would need a WSJ account to read it.

The Fight for Religious Freedom

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

I recently came across two excellent articles on the federal lawsuit against the HHS mandate that I thought it was worth sharing.

Mary Ann Glendon, professor at Harvard Law School, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about the attack on religious organizations.

Here is an excerpt from her article:

Along with leaders of other faiths who have conscientious objections to all or part of the mandate, they hoped to persuade the government to bring its regulations into line with the First Amendment, and with federal laws such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that provide exemptions to protect the conscience rights of religious institutions and individuals.

On Jan. 20, however, HHS announced it would not revise the mandate or expand its tight exemption, which covers only religious organizations that mainly hire and serve their co-religionists. Instead, the mandated coverage will continue to apply to hospitals, schools and social service providers run by groups whose religious beliefs require them to serve everyone in need.

Continued attempts to solve the problem by negotiation produced only an announcement by the Obama administration in February that insurance providers would pay for the contested services. Since many Catholic entities are self-insured and the others pay the premiums, the bishops’ concerns were not alleviated.

The main goal of the mandate is not, as HHS claimed, to protect women’s health. It is rather a move to conscript religious organizations into a political agenda, forcing them to facilitate and fund services that violate their beliefs, within their own institutions.

You can read the whole story here.

The second article I came across is written by George Weigel from the National Review Online. Mr. Weigel also argues that the HHS mandate violates the freedom of religion.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

This is not an argument about birth control, nor is it part of some “War on Women” waged by misogynistic clerics and their political allies from the fever swamps of the Right. The mandate is being legally challenged, in twelve different federal district courts, on the grounds that it violates the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion. If those legal protections mean anything, they must mean that neither religious institutions nor individuals can be compelled to provide “services” that are readily available through means other than coercing religiously informed consciences. Contraceptives are more readily available in the United States in 2012 than either cigarettes or beer. There is no compelling public need to dragoon institutions and individuals who conscientiously object to providing them into doing so — with the threat of ruinous financial penalties if they do not.

This argument over the meaning of religious freedom was not initiated by the Catholic Church; it was initiated by an administration that seems to regard “religious freedom” as merely a privacy right to certain kinds of recreational activities (like worship). As in its international human-rights policy (which speaks exclusively of “freedom of worship”), the administration seems unwilling or unable to grasp an elementary truth: Religious convictions are community-forming, and those communities, like the individuals whose conscientious convictions form them, are the subject of genuine religious freedom.

Click here to read the whole article.

Archdiocese of New York Files Federal Lawsuit Against HHS Mandate

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Today, the Archdiocese of New York filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the recent Health and Human Services mandate. I would like to share with you the following press release that the Archdiocese of New York issued this morning.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 21, 2012
ARCHDIOCESE OF NEW YORK FILES FEDERAL LAWSUIT AGAINST HHS MANDATE

In order to protect our religious liberties from unwarranted and unprecedented government intrusion, the Archdiocese of New York has filed suit in federal court today seeking to block the recent Health and Human Services mandate that unconstitutionally attempts to define the nature of the Church’s religious ministry and would force religious employers to violate their consciences. The Diocese of Rockville Centre has joined in the lawsuit.

Named as defendants in the suit are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.  The lawsuit was filed at federal court in Brooklyn.  Other lawsuits also objecting to the HHS mandate were filed today in federal district courts throughout the nation by other Catholic (arch)dioceses, institutions and organizations.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, said about the lawsuits filed in New York and elsewhere, “We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress, — and will keep at it — and there’s still no fix. Time is running out, and our precious ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.”

The Archdiocese of New York has filed this suit because the federal government is requiring religious organizations, under penalty of law, to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to services that are contrary to their deeply held and constitutionally-protected religious beliefs.

An equally grave concern is that while the government has recognized a religious exemption to these mandates, it is so narrowly worded that many – if not most – religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, schools, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters do not qualify for it.  Incredibly, under the government’s exemption standard, these Catholic institutions would not qualify because they do not discriminate against non-Catholics who might come to them seeking assistance.  Nor do they discriminate against non-Catholics in their hiring practices.  Further, in order to qualify for an exemption, a religious institution must submit to an invasive federal government inquiry into its religious beliefs and practices, conferring powers on government that are forbidden by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Specifically, for an institution to know whether it is religious enough to meet the government’s exemption standard, it must submit to an investigation whereby federal employees determine the religion of those employed and served by the entity, whether their beliefs are the same as the institution, and whether the institution hires and serves “primarily” those of the same beliefs.

For the Archdiocese of New York and its institutions, this situation is of particular concern since we have been subjected for nearly a decade to a mandate by New York State to provide services that are contrary to our religious beliefs.

In 2002, the New York State Catholic Conference objected to state legislation that directed Catholic institutions providing prescription drug coverage through standard commercial insurance policies to include coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices, which are proscribed according to Catholic teaching.  The Conference had enthusiastically supported major components of this legislation designed to ensure and expand healthcare for women, but sought to remove the objectionable provisions.  The legislation passed and was signed into law without the Conference’s recommended amendments.  Regrettably, the law includes an intrusively narrow definition of religious institutions similar to that in the current federal HHS mandates.

Suit was brought against the State of New York’s law on the basis of this objectionable requirement.  The case was lost, leaving Catholic institutions with commercial insurance in the regrettable position of either violating their religious conscience or canceling employee benefits. Those entities that chose to retain commercial plans have only done so “under protest.”

The dilemma facing Catholics institutions in the State of New York has now, under the HHS mandate, become a national issue. The current federal lawsuit attempts to remedy this injustice on a federal judicial level in a way that was unattainable on the New York State level.

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small image of PDF IconClick here to read a copy of the lawsuit filed.