New USCCB statement clarifies what the HHS debate is—and isn’t—about

US bishops are “strongly unified and intensely focused in its opposition to the various threats to religious freedom”

Just a few days after a nationwide CBS/New York Times poll found that 57 percent of Americans believe there should be exceptions for employers who have moral objections to providing health insurance plans that cover contraception, the administrative committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops today released a strongly-worded statement reiterating its commitment to opposing the HHS contraception mandate as an unconstitutional violation of religious freedom.

Stating unequivocally that it views the Obama administration’s actions as an attempt to redefine religion and a violation of personal civil rights, the USCCB promises to continue “our vigorous efforts” to fight the enforcement of the mandate, such as pursuing a legislative solution and turning to the courts to protect religious liberty.

Before launching into a detailed description of the USCCB’s objections to the HHS mandate, the bishops clarify what the debate is not about:

This is not about access to contraception, which is ubiquitous and inexpensive, even when it is not provided by the Church’s hand and with the Church’s funds. This is not about the religious freedom of Catholics only, but also of those who recognize that their cherished beliefs may be next on the block. This is not about the Bishops’ somehow “banning contraception,” when the U.S. Supreme Court took that issue off the table two generations ago. Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the Church—consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions—to act against Church teachings. This is not a matter of opposition to universal health care, which has been a concern of the Bishops’ Conference since 1919, virtually at its founding. This is not a fight we want or asked for, but one forced upon us by government on its own timing. Finally, this is not a Republican or Democratic, a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American issue.

In outlining the bishops’ objections to the actions taken by the Obama administration in the implementation of the health care reform legislation, the USCCB statement says that what is at stake is nothing less than the identity of the Catholic Church as an institution founded “both to love and to serve the Lord”:

Government has no place defining religion and religious ministry. HHS thus creates and enforces a new distinction—alien both to our Catholic tradition and to federal law—between our houses of worship and our great ministries of service to our neighbors, namely, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the students in our schools and universities, and others in need, of any faith community or none. Cf. Deus Caritas Est, Nos. 20-33. We are commanded both to love and to serve the Lord; laws that protect our freedom to comply with one of these commands but not the other are nothing to celebrate. Indeed, they must be rejected, for they create a “second class” of citizenship within our religious community.

The bishops’ statement closes with a promise to continue the actions already being taken on behalf of religious liberty, including dialogue with the Obama administration and the consideration of legal options under the US Constitution:

We will continue our vigorous efforts at education and public advocacy on the principles of religious liberty and their application in this case (and others). We will continue to accept any invitation to dialogue with the Executive Branch to protect the religious freedom that is rightly ours. We will continue to pursue legislation to restore the same level of religious freedom we have enjoyed until just recently. And we will continue to explore our options for relief from the courts, under the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws that protect religious freedom.

The entire USCCB statement can be read here.

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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.