Archbishop Wenski applauds lawsuits

Published On: May 21 2012 04:31:47 PM EDT   Updated On: May 21 2012 04:32:15 PM EDT
Archbishop Thomas Wenski Voices
MIAMI -

I commend the 43 dioceses, hospitals, schools and Catholic Church entities that have filed 12 lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for violation of religious freedom. These lawsuits defend our rights under this country’s First Amendment, Freedom of Religion.

This freedom is rooted in the dignity of every human person and as Americans and Catholics we are obliged to defend this religious right for ourselves and others. The “separation of Church and State” was intended to keep the state from intruding into the Church’s – or any religious organization’s – territory. The Dept. of HHS is attempting to do just this through its healthcare mandate which creates a slippery slope.

The Catholic Church is not attempting to force its views on the rest of the country; it is the other way around. The federal government of the United States is trying to force its views on the Church. Individuals are free to buy contraceptives – the Supreme Court settled that question a long time ago.  Employers are free to cover it in the health insurance they sponsor, and insurers are free to write policies covering it.  This has long been the case and is not in dispute.

The issue here is whether the government can force the Church to furnish its own employees with coverage it considers morally and religiously objectionable.  Under the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, we think not.

Our government is attempting to order us to violate our conscience, teachings and beliefs.  What would be the next mandate by our government; what other amendment of the Bill of Rights will be violated? 

Our government’s efforts to ‘accommodate” the Church’s objections based on religious freedom is not a fix.  This HHS mandate still requires religious organizations to sponsor and subsidize health insurance plans that include drugs and procedures that are found morally objectionable. Many of this country’s Catholic dioceses, hospitals, schools, and entities are self-insured, so costs for mandated coverage, although a violation of our freedom and beliefs, will have to be accepted and absorbed by the religious institution.

Catholic Churches and their entities help people because we are Catholic, not because they are Catholic. Since the Church services non-Catholics there is no exclusion for us; under this HHS mandate and its narrow exception, the government is punishing us for reaching out to non-Catholics.  Before we asked “Are you hungry?”, Are you sick?” We now have to ask “Are you Catholic?”  The way the HHS mandate defines religious ministry is so narrow that almost no religious organization qualifies for religious freedom protection or exemption.

HHS is willing to jeopardize a massive network of hospitals, social services and schools in order to impose on everybody its views on abortion-inducting drugs, contraception and sterilization.

Some ask why are only the Catholic Church organizations filing these lawsuits?   Perhaps that question should be directed to those being sued.  But every individual in this country, and every religious organization, should be concerned that our federal government believes it has the power to force its citizens to violate their consciences and beliefs.  Non-Catholic entities are similarly impacted by this mandate; some of those entities are already involved in separate lawsuits. Although these newest lawsuits happen to include only Catholic entities, we are hopeful that they will establish principles that protect all religious organizations.