Protect religious libertyPublished 8:52pm Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency.
This primary tenet of Catholic Social Teaching is just one of the core beliefs that has driven Catholic bishops in our long-standing support and advocacy for protection of the sanctity and dignity of all human life and for affordable access to life-affirming health care for all people.
It is the topic of health care that dominates the media and public conversation in the aftermath of the decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to uphold its mandate to require virtually all private health plans to include coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, female sterilization procedures and related patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the public coverage of this grave issue seeks to put the Church’s teaching on the use of contraception at the center of the issue and in doing so inappropriately deflects and distracts us from the heart of this serious conflict.
What is truly at the center of this debate between the Catholic Church and the Department of Health and Human Services is the unprecedented government mandate to force religious institutions to violate their own conscience —a right guaranteed by the First Amendment.
This is particularly troubling as the United States is a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle.
As the Catholic Church we are not asking everyone to understand, agree with or even abide by our Catholic teaching —we simply ask that our religious beliefs be respected and our rights guaranteed by the Constitution be upheld.
Since there is a significant amount of inaccurate information on this important topic I wish to clarify three important facts about the current HHS ruling:
First, there is the respect for religious liberty. No government has the right to coerce the Church or faithful individuals to engage in or cooperate in any way with immoral practices.
Second, it is the place of the Church, not of government to define its religious identity and ministry.
The Feb. 10 announcement by the White House left intact the restrictive definition of a religious entity.
Under this rule any religious organization or institution including parishes that minister, serve or educate anyone outside of its own faith or of no-faith are not exempt as a religious organization.
Virtually few faith organizations would qualify under these extremely narrow parameters.
Third, we continue to oppose the underlying policy of the government mandate for purchase or promotion of contraception, sterilization or abortion-inducing drugs.
Shifting the costs of contraceptives from the policyholders to the insurers still results in Catholic individuals and institutions having to pay for services that we consider immoral.
Many dioceses across the country and Catholic institutions, such as Borgess (Catholic) Hospital, are self-insuring. It would appear that self-insuring religious employers and religious insurance companies are not exempt from this mandate.
I join with my fellow bishops across the country and with all Americans dedicated to our nation’s founding principles in renewing our call for Congress to pass, and the administration to sign, the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act.”
Just a few weeks ago our local community joined with people of good will throughout the country in paying tribute to the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
One of his famous quotes rings true to us today when he said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
For this reason we must let our voices be heard and continue to advocate strongly for the protection of religious liberty for all.
The Most Rev. Paul J. Bradley is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kalamazoo.