Most Reverend Donald J. Hying
Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee
Despite the publicity and communication around the issue of religious freedom this year, many people still fail to understand what is at stake in this debate. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requires full coverage of contraceptive services, including sterilizations and abortifacients, as part of its preventive services coverage for all health plans nationally. A narrow exemption was granted which would probably apply to most Catholic parishes and grade schools, but exclude most Catholic colleges, universities, hospitals and social service agencies. Unless some accommodation is made, either through the courts or the executive branch, come August 1, 2013, any religious institution not exempt from the mandate will have four choices:
1. Comply with the mandate and violate Church teaching.
2. Defy the mandate and face enormous financial penalties.
3. Cease their religious affiliation.
4. Close their doors.
This HHS mandate represents a singular assault on religious liberty, guaranteed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Federal government is claiming the right to define the nature of a religious institution and forcing both organizations and individuals to violate their conscience or face penalties. If this radical innovation of church/state relations is allowed to legally stand, it will have consequences and ramifications in other aspects of our lives and religious practice.
An integral aspect of the Roman Catholic Church has always been her invaluable contribution to the common good through education, health care and social services. Her prophetic voice and compassionate presence in the public square is more needed than ever in these challenging times. We cannot afford to be marginalized by the redefinition of religious freedom as the right to worship. While the worship of God, most profoundly in the Eucharist, is at the heart of our faith, Catholics have always lived out their faith through deeds of mercy and justice in the world. The government has consistently respected the right of conscientious objection. One cannot be coerced into an action that is intrinsically wrong and a violation of conscience. There is much at stake in this debate and this election.
Read more about forming consciences for Faithful Citizenship by clicking here.