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Bishop Rhoades: Insurance mandate is assault on religious liberty

Rhoades

Statement issued by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend regarding the HHS mandate that virtually all private health care plans cover sterilization, abortifacients and contraception:

February 2, 2012

On Friday, January 20th, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those “services” in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.

This alarming mandate not only negatively impacts the Catholic Church in the United States directly, it also strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty of all citizens of any faith. Our Founding Fathers recognized the innate right to religious liberty when they enshrined this right as our first freedom in the Bill of Rights. The author of the First Amendment, James Madison, wrote: “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.” Thomas Jefferson wrote: “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

We as Americans cherish our religious liberty, which includes freedom of conscience. The mandate from HHS is an unprecedented attack on this liberty since it coerces religious institutions and citizens to pay for actions that violate our moral teachings and religious beliefs.

We cannot and we will not comply with this unjust federal order. We cannot and we will not accept this egregious affront to our religious liberty.

The implications of this mandate for the Catholic Church in the United States, including our diocese, our Catholic health care institutions, our Catholic colleges and universities, and our Catholic Charities are grave. Many who do not share our beliefs also object to the HHS rules, recognizing that they are a violation of religious freedom and the rights of conscience.

Some have noted that HHS included a religious exemption in the new mandate. But to be eligible for this exemption, an organization must meet four strict criteria, including the requirement that it both hire and serve primarily people of its own faith. Catholic hospitals, for example, would have to eject their non-Catholic employees and limit their patients to Catholics in order to qualify for the exemption. As some have noted, Jesus and his apostles would not have been “religious enough” for this exemption, since they served and healed people of different faiths.

I and many of my brother bishops have spoken out forcefully against this unconscionable decision by the Administration. In the coming months, we must focus our energies on fighting this unjust mandate and defending our religious liberty. I exhort all men and women of good will to be engaged on this issue. We need to defend our cherished rights and resist violations of our first freedom. We must hold firm and be courageous in this matter. We must be united in our defense of the religious liberty granted us by God and protected in our nation’s Constitution.

We must all commit ourselves to prayer and sacrifice so that truth and justice may prevail and religious liberty may be restored. Without God, we can do nothing. With God, nothing is impossible. I also recommend visiting the U.S. Bishops’ website (www.usccb.org) to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty and how to contact Congress in support of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act that would reverse the Administration’s decision. Given the seriousness of the situation, we must ask our federal senators and representatives not only to support this legislation, but to be co-sponsors of it as well.

May God guide us and strengthen us in this battle!

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