Cardinal Donald Wuerl has written an editorial in the Washington Post, explaining why his archdiocese is suing the federal government over the HHS mandate.
It’s all about the government seizing the power to define what is religion, and what is religious ministry.
Imagine the church’s surprise, then, to be told by the federal government that when a Catholic organization serves its neighbors, it isn’t really practicing its religion.
That is the unacceptable principle at the heart of a mandate, issued in February by the Department of Health and Human Services, that requires religious organizations to provide health-care coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization procedures, even if their faith teaches that those drugs and procedures are wrong. That is what has prompted the Archdiocese of Washington to go to court to protect our First Amendment right to practice our religion without government interference.
The cardinal explains how the mandate excludes many, if not most, Catholic organizations from qualification as “religious:”
…this mandate’s religious exemption is the narrowest ever adopted in federal law. For example, it doesn’t include any organization that serves the general public. So under this mandate, our Catholic hospitals, schools and social service programs, which serve all comers, are not “Catholic enough” to be allowed to follow our Catholic beliefs.
As Cardinal Wuerl notes, this controversy is about government inserting itself into religion. This administration has decided that Catholic organizations must provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception, despite Catholic teachings. The alternatives: submit, be fined crippling sums, or defy the unjust law.
This is not just a Catholic issue. Under the government’s new rules, religious organizations are free to serve the public only if they fulfill the government’s requirement to provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization. Organizations whose beliefs differ from this government-mandated orthodoxy have two options if they want to continue their mission of serving the public: abandon any belief that the government does not sanction, or uphold that belief and incur crippling fines. This issue should matter to anyone who believes there is room in the public square for people of all faiths — not just those faiths that pass some government test.
Cardinal Wuerl addresses the issue of the so-called “accommodation:”
Unlike the mandate itself, this proposal was never adopted into law, nor is it clear whether it will be. The so-called accommodation does not take into account those that are self-insured, like the Archdiocese of Washington, and in any case religious institutions would inevitably be forced to subsidize all of this through increased premiums or fees. Even if there were such a thing as free contraceptives, this isn’t about the money. This is about the government forcing us to violate our beliefs.
The Cardinal’s conclusion is powerful:
This struggle is all about the Bill of Rights. You don’t have to agree with the Catholic Church and its teachings to agree that the government shouldn’t force us to violate our beliefs. People of all faiths or no faith should cherish the right to follow one’s conscience. We do not want to tell the government what it must do. We simply ask the same of them.