Q&A on Religious Freedom – Bishop John M. LeVoir
(used with permission of The Catholic Servant)
Q. The U.S. Bishops seem upset with the Health and Human Service (HHS) Mandate that would require many Catholic institutions and Catholic business owners to provide insurance coverage for their employees that would include abortion inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraceptives. Why all the furor over this?
A. From before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, many from all faiths came to America seeking freedom to exercise their religion. When the First Amendment of the Constitution was ratified, it guaranteed that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. (Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty, p. 2).
The freedom to exercise religion has been protected and guarded with the utmost care over the centuries since the founding of our country. However, in our day, this freedom is under attack. The recent HHS Mandate (issued in January of this year) is one example of this attack.
Q. What is at the heart of this mandate?
A. By means of this mandate: “In an unprecedented way, the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching…” (Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, p. 2).
Q. What is the “product” that the federal government will force religious institutions and Catholic business owners to facilitate and fund?
A. The “product” is insurance coverage for employees that would include abortion inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraceptives. All three of these things are contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church.
In other words, the federal government is forcing Catholic institutions and Catholic business owners, under the threat of heavy penalties, to do something that violates the teaching of their Catholic faith. The government is forcing Catholics to pay for and thus subsidize a “product” that is directly contrary to the Catholic conscience. This is unconstitutional, and directly contrary to the dignity of the human person and the freedom due to the human conscience.
About the recent Health and Human Services mandate, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, has said: “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights” (January 20, 2012; Cardinal-Designate Dolan Speaks Out Against HHS Rule, Calls For Action In New Web Video).
The HHS Mandate is called the “contraceptive mandate” in the media. But, the mandate is not about contraception as such. It is about coercing Catholics to pay for a “product” that their religion teaches is immoral. It doesn’t matter what the “product” is. A better name for the mandate would be the “restriction of religious freedom” mandate.
Archbishop-designate William Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, testified to Congress: “This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.” (Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty, p. 3).
This mandate opens the door for more restrictive actions by the federal government upon religious organizations. So, the issue of the HHS Mandate is not just a Catholic issue. It is each citizen’s issue. Catholics and people of all faiths should be free to act upon their beliefs. Since this mandate restricts the freedom of religion for Catholics, it is logical to ask what restrictions will be imposed next and upon what religious group?
So, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is sounding a clarion call for our country to wake up. Religious freedom in our country is under attack. “What we ask is nothing more than that our God-given right to religious liberty be respected. We ask nothing less than that the Constitution and laws of the United States, which recognize that right, be respected” (Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, p. 9). Let us pray daily the following prayer (Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, pp 12 and 13):
Almighty God, Father of all nations,
For freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1).
We praise and bless you for the gift of religious liberty,
the foundation of human rights, justice, and the common good.
Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties;
By your grace may we have the courage to defend them, for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land.
We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness,
and in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
with whom you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
-The Most Rev. John M. LeVoir, Bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm.