Mandate seen pushing church out of health care
by: Gracy Howard
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Several thousand people rally against a federal policy mandating that religious institutions provide health insurance coverage for birth control, Friday, June 29, at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The Kansas Catholic Conference, which views the mandate as an attack on religious liberty, estimated the crowd outdoors at about 4,000.
As Americans across the country barbecue burgers and watch fireworks, many Catholics will spend this Fourth of July wondering whether their religious freedoms will survive to see another.
Wednesday marks the end of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom in protest of the 2010 Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate. The 14 days consisted of special prayers and masses, fasting, and various church gatherings to express support for religious liberty.
Catholic church bells across the country will let freedom ring at noon as a sign of solidarity. Yet the impact of the church’s effort is yet to be seen, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is expected to impose its mandate Aug. 1.
One Catholic physician wrote to Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and told him, “I think this is the administration’s [Ben Nelson] attempt to push the Catholic church out of health care.”
The Rev. Paul Scalia, pastor of St. John Catholic the Beloved Church in Arlington, Va., said that “If you wanted to push the Catholic church out of health care, you couldn’t have found a better way to do it.”
Bishop Paul Loverde of the Arlington Diocese echoed these fears in a July 3 press release stating that the church may be “muzzled and pushed out” of its health care ministry completely.
“The consequence, whether intended or not, is certainly undermining the ability of Catholics, as well as others who object, to carry on their good work in health care for the most vulnerable,” Mr. Fortenberry said. “For the thousands who object to medications that induce abortion, the mandate is a breach of conscience that they cannot comply with.”
“People are very concerned, they see the implications of this,” Father Scalia said. “If this is not changed, it sets a very disturbing precedent — what else can be forced? If not this, why would we not be forced to fund surgical abortions?”
If it becomes a choice between work and faith, Father Scalia said members of his parish would choose their faith — even if it drives them out of business.
In an effort to protect those opposed to the mandate, Mr. Fortenberry introduced the Respect for the Rights of Conscience Act. The bill stipulates that religious organizations can refuse to comply with the mandate based on their ethical values.
The bill has garnered widespread support, with 224 co-sponsors from both political parties. At root, Mr. Fortenberry said, “This isn’t a Catholic issue. It is an American issue.”
The Archdiocese of Washington created a website, sacredproperty.org, to rally and inspire the Fortnight movement. Its name is based on words spoken by James Madison, architect of the Constitution: “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.”
Father Scalia referenced a statement made by Pope John Paul II when he visited the United States in 1995: “The challenge facing you, dear friends, is to increase people’s awareness of the importance of religious freedom for society; to defend that freedom against those who would take religion out of the public domain and establish secularism as America’s official faith.” Seventeen years later, these words seem particularly poignant to Father Scalia and members of his parish.
For them, this Fourth of July has taken on new meaning. He said they are “looking to Independence Day in a new way,” recognizing that their religious liberty can’t be taken for granted.
“If we want to have it,” he said, “we must claim it anew.”