Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cardinal Dolan to Bishops - ‘Where does it end?’

In a new letter to his fellow US bishops, USCCB President Timothy Cardinal Dolan asserts that President Obama’s accommodation to the HHS birth control, abortifacient and sterilization mandate has changed nothing and he again asks the bishops to help in the fight to pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act.

The letter, co-signed by Bishop William Lori and dated today, is the strongest statement yet on the subject of religious freedom which the writers say is a God-given right which “does not depend on any government’s decision to grant it.”

The bishops worry that the mandate sets a terrible precedent for religious liberty, “If the government can, for example, tell Catholics that they cannot be in the insurance business today without violating their religious convictions, where does it end?”

Full text below:

Dear Brother Bishops,

Since we last wrote to you concerning the critical efforts we are undertaking together to protect religious freedom in our beloved country, many of you have requested that we write once more to update you on the situation and to again request the assistance of all the faithful in this important work. We are happy to do so now.

First, we wish to express our heartfelt appreciation to you, and to all our sisters and brothers in Christ, for the remarkable witness of our unity in faith and strength of conviction during this past month. We have made our voices heard, and we will not cease from doing so until religious freedom is restored.

As we know, on January 20, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a decision to issue final regulations that would force practically all employers, including many religious institutions, to pay for abortion inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraception. The regulations would provide no protections for our great institutions—such as Catholic charities, hospitals, and universities—or for the individual faithful in the marketplace. The regulations struck at the heart of our fundamental right to religious liberty, which affects our ability to serve those outside our faith community.

Since January 20, the reaction was immediate and sustained. We came together, joined by people of every creed and political persuasion, to make one thing resoundingly clear: we stand united against any attempt to deny or weaken the right to religious liberty upon which our country was founded.

On Friday, February 10, the Administration issued the final rules. By their very terms, the rules were reaffirmed “without change.” The mandate to provide the illicit services remains. The exceedingly narrow exemption for churches remains. Despite the outcry, all the threats to religious liberty posed by the initial rules remain.

Religious freedom is a fundamental right of all. This right does not depend on any government’s decision to grant it: it is God-given, and just societies recognize and respect its free exercise. The free exercise of religion extends well beyond the freedom of worship. It also forbids government from forcing people or groups to violate their most deeply held religious convictions, and from interfering in the internal affairs of religious organizations.

Recent actions by the Administration have attempted to reduce this free exercise to a “privilege” arbitrarily granted by the government as a mere exemption from an all-encompassing, extreme form of secularism. The exemption is too narrowly defined, because it does not exempt most non-profit religious employers, the religiously affiliated insurer, the self-insured employer, the for-profit religious employer, or other private businesses owned and operated by people who rightly object to paying for abortion inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. And because it is instituted only by executive whim, even this unduly narrow exemption can be taken away easily.

In the United States, religious liberty does not depend on the benevolence of who is regulating us. It is our “first freedom” and respect for it must be broad and inclusive—not narrow and exclusive. Catholics and other people of faith and good will are not second class citizens. And it is not for the government to decide which of our ministries is “religious enough” to warrant religious freedom protection.

This is not just about contraception, abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization—although all should recognize the injustices involved in making them part of a universal mandated health care program. It is not about Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals. It is about people of faith. This is first and foremost a matter of religious liberty for all. If the government can, for example, tell Catholics that they cannot be in the insurance business today without violating their religious convictions, where does it end? This violates the constitutional limits on our government, and the basic rights upon which our country was founded.

Much remains to be done. We cannot rest when faced with so grave a threat to the religious liberty for which our parents and grandparents fought. In this moment in history we must work diligently to preserve religious liberty and to remove all threats to the practice of our faith in the public square. This is our heritage as Americans. President Obama should rescind the mandate, or at the very least, provide full and effective measures to protect religious liberty and conscience.

Above all, dear brothers, we rely on the help of the Lord in this important struggle. We all need to act now by contacting our legislators in support of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which can be done through our action alert on www.usccb.org/conscience.

We invite you to share the contents of this letter with the faithful of your diocese in whatever form, or by whatever means, you consider most suitable. Let us continue to pray for a quick and complete resolution to this and all threats to religious liberty and the exercise of our faith in our great country.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan
Archbishop of New York
President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Most Reverend William E. Lori
Bishop of Bridgeport
Chairman, Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Missouri Moves to Repeal HHS Mandate

A Missouri Senate Committee has passed and sent to the full Senate a bill which would protect the conscience rights of Missouri citizens, employers and insurance companies from the effects of the Obama administration’s sterilization, abortifacient and contraceptive mandate.

SB 749 by Senator John Lamping (R-Clayton) has been fast tracked and could be up for consideration as early as Monday. The bill’s summary reads, in part:

This act provides that no employee or any other person, employer, health plan provider or sponsor, health care provider or any other entity shall be compelled to obtain coverage for or provide coverage for abortion, contraception, or sterilization in a health plan if such items or procedures are contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of such employee, health care plan, provider or sponsor, or any other entity or person. No such employee, health care plan, provider or sponsor, or any other entity or person shall be discriminated against by any governmental entity, public official, or entity acting in a governmental capacity for failing to obtain or provide such coverage because of such religious beliefs or moral convictions of such employee, health care plan, provider or sponsor, or any other entity or person.

The bill further directs the State Attorney General to bring action in state or federal court is any of its provisions are threatened or violated. Below is the Missouri Catholic Conference analysis of the bill and the HHS Mandate situation in general (Don’t miss the action item at the bottom):

The Missouri Senate is moving swiftly to respond to the Obama Administration's recent edict that employers, including the Catholic Church, provide health coverage for contraceptives, sterilization procedures and abortion drugs. SB 749, sponsored by Senator John Lamping (R-Clayton), won committee approval Tuesday and is fast-tracked and may be debated next week by the full Senate. (Click here to see the Fox 2 News video.)

SB 749 would place in state law a clear prohibition on government forcing employers, including the Catholic Church, to pay for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion drugs. The bill would also ensure that individuals would not be forced to purchase health plans that include these items if they object to them on moral or religious grounds.

WHY STATE ACTION MUST BE A PRIORITY

Congress has so far failed to enact revisions to the federal health care law (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) that will protect rights of conscience and religious liberty. Leaders in the U.S. Senate in particular have stymied efforts to amend the law.

It is becoming increasingly clear that change will only come when there is a groundswell of protest from citizens. And that is most effectively mobilized at the state level. State officials are closer to the people and more responsive to their concerns.

The MCC has great hope that the Missouri General Assembly will pass SB 749. If Governor Nixon then signs the bill into law, this will send a powerful message to Congress that events are leaving them behind and they need to act.

WHY OBAMA'S "ACCOMMODATION" FAILS TO PROTECT RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Last Friday President Obama announced a so-called "accommodation" on a rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that required all employers, including the Catholic Church, to pay for contraceptives, sterilization procedures and abortion drugs. This "accommodation" requires insurance companies offering health plans to religious organizations to separately provide free coverage to the employees for contraceptives, sterilization and abortion drugs. 

In fact, insurance companies are not going to offer this coverage for free. Someone is going to pay for it and that someone is the religious employer. The religious employer will pay a higher premium and thereby subsidize the use of these products that violate their religious and moral tenets. And religious employers that self-insure, that is, don't buy their health insurance on the open market, will have to pay for and provide contraceptives, sterilization and abortion drugs in the health plans they offer to their employees.

The "accommodation" also does not offer a private (non-Church) employer the option to refuse to pay for abortion drugs etc if they have moral or religious objections. Individuals (employees) will also be forced to pay through premiums for health plans that include abortion drugs etc, even if they don't use them or if they object for moral or religious reasons.

DEEPLY FLAWED PROCESS, DEEPLY FLAWED LAW

This deeply flawed "accommodation" has not been issued as a revised rule. That rule will not be issued until after the election. People are being asked to just trust that the President will take care of the problem, somehow, later. It's a sad day when our religious liberties depend upon some edict from the White House.

We got to this point because Congress, when they wrote the new health care law, failed to include provisions protecting rights of conscience and religious liberty. Instead, the law ceded broad authority to HHS to write rules and HHS proceeded to define the "preventive services" that employers must offer to include contraceptives, sterilization procedures and abortion drugs.

If we have learned anything in recent weeks, it is that we should not trust our religious liberties to federal regulators. Without clear guidance from the new federal health care law, regulators proceeded to write a rule that violates the moral and religious convictions of Americans.

IT'S ABOUT RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Opponents (and much of the media) are trying to characterize this issue as one about birth control. But people get it: this is about religious liberties. Click here to view a short video prepared by the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  1. Contact your state senator today.
  2. Forward this email alert to family, friends and others.
  3. Pray for wisdom and understanding by all our Missouri Senators.
  4. Report back to the MCC on what your senator is saying.

THE MESSAGE/TALKING POINTS

  • Please don't delay in protecting our religious freedoms; pass SB 749.
  • The President's so-called accommodation is flawed (cite reasons above).
  • Missouri should send a message to Congress today; don't delay in protecting our religious freedoms.
  • Government should not force churches or private employers to pay for abortion drugs or other things they morally object to.
  • Individuals should not be forced to pay for health plans that include abortion drugs.
  • It's about religious liberty; pass SB 749.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why Prop 8 Decision Was No Surprise

By now you’ve heard that the Ninth Circuit Court has upheld Judge Walker’s decision to overturn the will of the voters in California who supported Proposition 8. The case will immediately be appealed to the Supreme Court. Catholics for the Common Good which has done so much important work educating Californians on the meaning and value of marriage sends along their analysis of why the decision was no surprise:

THE JAMES R. BROWNING COURTHOUSE, SAN FRANCISCO, CA – “The decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold Judge Walker’s radical decision overturning Prop 8 comes as no surprise,” said Catholics for the Common Good President William B. May.

“We always knew this case would be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Now that the Ninth Circuit has rendered its decision, the case can finally move to the U.S. Supreme Court where it will be decided on sound legal arguments rather than the emotional appeals by those trying to obliterate the only institution that unites children with their moms and dads.”

“The author of the decision, Judge Stephen Reinhardt, is one of the most overturned judges in the most overturned court in the U.S.”

According to Prop 8 Legal Defense General Counsel Andy Pugno, this decision “is completely out of step with every other federal appellate and Supreme Court decision in American history on the subject of marriage.” ProtectMarriage.com will immediately file its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It is outrageous that judges continue to disregard the will of 7 million voters who voted to protect the centrality and integrity of marriage for children and society,” May said.

Federal District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker presided over a show trial about marriage in which plaintiff’s counsel trotted out witness after witness with emotional arguments in a PR attempt to re-argue Proposition 8.

“Failing to disclose that the judge himself was similarly situated as the plaintiffs (in a long-term committed relationship with a same-sex partner), Walker could find no rational reason for the voters to define marriage between a man and a woman and concluded they were bigoted and discriminatory,” said May.

“To reach his judgment about the voters and his decision to strike down Prop 8, he created a new definition of marriage as merely the public recognition of a committed relationship for the benefit of adults. However, the voters of California know that marriage is much more than that. It is the reality that unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union. This is what marriage is; that is what it does. It is a reality that can only be recognized by law and never changed.”

Catholics for the Common Good works for a more just society. It is the sponsor of the Stand with Children Project, a movement promoting marriage and family as an imperative of social justice.

Friday, February 3, 2012

USCCB’s pro-life head goes Maccabees on HHS rule - ‘not just about eating a little pork’

I haven’t posted one of these offerings from the USCCB’s Life Issues Forum lately, but this one is fairly striking in its implication. Just released from the executive director of the USCCB’s Pro-Life Secretariat:

The High Cost of Conscience

By Tom Grenchik

At the end of the liturgical year, the Mass readings tell dramatic stories from the Books of Maccabees of simple folks standing courageously for their faith in the face of torture and death. Their exemplary witness can strengthen us as we defend our conscience rights and religious liberty which are under attack today.

In second century B.C., a conquering king was intent on suppressing Judaism in Palestine. He issued a decree that his whole kingdom should all be one people, each abandoning his particular customs and religious laws and observances. Whoever refused to comply would be killed. Though large numbers did comply, we’re told that many in Israel “preferred to die rather than be defiled with unclean food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. Terrible affliction was upon Israel” (Maccabees 1:63).

The king sent inspectors to root out anyone suspected of following Jewish law. Some enforcers used verbal pressure (“everyone else is doing it”). Others offered riches and powerful positions to community leaders who might cave in. Most relied on torture or massacre.

Eleazar, a prominent Jewish leader, was so respected by his torturers that they privately offered him a chance to fake his obedience to the king. He could bring his own meat and pretend to be eating the forbidden pork. That way he could publicly please the king, technically please God, and fake it for everyone else, leading them to violate their consciences. Eleazar refused and was beaten to death.

A mother and her seven sons also refused to comply. After being severely tortured, each was offered a choice: comply with the king’s mandate, or be dismembered and fried. The mom, killed last, boldly encouraged each son to remain steadfast and not compromise his faith.

What inspired such martyrs to follow the tenets of their faith, when eating a bite of pork could have prevented dreadful suffering and likely would have been widely supported as best for the common good? They knew in their hearts that no king or government agency could force them to compromise their faith.

Similar stories of heroes killed for refusing to violate their conscience by following unjust decrees are found throughout history and cultures. Yet their courageous resistance to violations of faith and conscience often surprises leaders who impose such unjust laws.

On January 20, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that nearly all health plans will be forced to cover drugs and procedures even if this violates the consciences of those who offer, sponsor or purchase the plan. As many have noted, this is not just about access to contraception, abortifacients, or sterilization. The mandate is about forcing religious groups or individuals, against their beliefs, to pay for or provide these things under threat of sizeable penalties. For Eleazar, too, it was not just about eating a little pork. It was about being forced to act against his beliefs and lead others astray.

The backlash against HHS’s contraception and sterilization mandate should surprise no one. People of conscience are rising up against this unjust and unconstitutional mandate. Folks from all walks of life have spoken out. Facebook groups are organizing “Stand with the Bishops” campaigns. Others are participating in “Days of Fasting and Prayer” for their bishops. Still others are launching online “Rosary Campaigns for Religious Freedom,” and so on. All of these efforts are encouraging. At the Catholic bishops’ conference webpage www.usccb.org/conscience you can learn more about this issue and take action to defend conscience rights.

Defending the right of conscience comes at a high cost; but the cost of failing to do so is incalculable.

It is cause for great hope that the Catholic community understands the threat, is united in opposition, and is swiftly mobilizing in parishes and dioceses, in hospitals and academic institutions, and nationally under the leadership of our bishops to demand that the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment be upheld. If we do not stand and be counted now, what will be the next moral challenge forced upon people of faith? Who will be the next group targeted?

_____________________________________________________________________

Tom Grenchik is Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Go to http://www.usccb.org/conscience to learn more about the bishops’ activities on conscience protection.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Catholic schools in KC diocese DO NOT seek Missouri tuition aid

An unfortunate headline in the Kansas City Star missed the “DO NOT”. To be fair, reporters typically don’t headline their stories, but the misconception that SB 706 (Cunningham) provides public tuition assistance to families sending their kids to Catholic schools is one that made its way into numerous stories and blog posts on the bill yesterday.

SB 706 provides a wide array of fixes to the problems of three unaccredited Missouri public school districts, one being the Kansas City district. Numerous Catholic school leaders and students testified in the State Senate yesterday in favor of a provision of the bill called the Passport Scholarship Program. The program would provide a nonrefundable tax credit to individuals or corporations making donations to a qualified scholarship-making organization. Scholarships made through those donations must be provided to a student residing in an unaccredited school district and spent for tuition at a qualified, accredited non-public school. So to be clear:

- The scholarships are provided by private individuals and corporations.

- No public money is expended for the scholarships.

- Catholic and other private schools and the students who attend them would not be receiving any tuition aid from the state.

- Even the tax credit for donors to these scholarships is nonrefundable, meaning not a single dollar leaves state coffers; if the credit exceeds your tax liability, you are not getting a check.

- The tax credit is not for payment of your own child’s tuition. Only those making donations to a qualified scholarship-making organization get the credit.

- Finally, the financial benefit to the state outweighs the revenue lost in tax credits. For instance, if a taxpayer makes a donation in the full amount of the cost to educate a child in a Kansas City Catholic elementary school ($5,500) that taxpayer would receive a 60 percent tax credit ($3,300). If that child had gone to a KCMSD school, instead of a Catholic school, it would have cost the government $14,556 (the cost per student in KCMSD schools). Under the Passport Scholarship Program, a student on a full, privately funded scholarship to a Kansas City Catholic school saves the public $11,266.