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Preserve Religious Freedom!
Fortnight for Freedom, June 21 – July 4, 2014
In 2014, the Fortnight for Freedom theme is “Freedom to Serve.” The theme of this year’s Fortnight will focus on the freedom to serve the poor and vulnerable in accord with human dignity and the Church’s teaching. Below are some resources prepared by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati as well as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help parishes and faith communities recognize this time.
Dioceses, parishes, and Catholic institutions around the country continue to highlight the importance of preserving our religious freedoms. Among other examples, this freedom is under attack from such actions as the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate for religious institutions as well as state laws that would limit what populations of people the Church may serve, such as undocumented migrants. Background on current threats to religious liberty, both at home and abroad, including opportunities for action, can be found at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website here.
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati offers this page of resources, in addition to the materials provided by the USCCB, for use by parishes and individuals to focus our hearts and minds on our Christian and American heritage of religious freedom.
The HHS Mandate: What Catholics Need to Know
The Ohio Council of Churches (OCC), which includes 18 Christian denominations in the state of Ohio, has issued a statement expressing concerns about religious liberty and the HHS mandate, which attempts to define which religious institutions are religious enough to follow their own teachings and which are not in certain circumstances. An excerpt of the statement reads:
This mandate sets a concerning precedent for any religious institution which may find itself in a position of having values that, within reason, challenge that of the state… Therefore, in light of the concerns raised by the HHS mandate, even with the great diversity to be found in the communities comprising the OCC, we call upon our elected leaders, government officials of all levels, and the religious community, to work for two goals: 1) actively to pursue changes that would broaden the religious exemption within the current mandate, and 2) to propose and implement safeguards in legislation on social issues that will respect and protect religious liberty and the rights of conscience.
Background and Opportunities for Action on the HHS mandate
On January 20, 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reaffirmed a rule forcing virtually all private health care plans to cover sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. These are listed among “preventive services for women” that all health plans will have to cover without co-pays or other cost-sharing.
The exemption provided for “religious employers” is so narrow that it fails to cover the vast majority of faith-based organizations, including Catholic hospitals, universities, and service organizations that help millions every year. What is most objectionable about the HHS rule is that it only defines those institutions worthy enough for an exemption as those which 1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; 2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; 3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and 4) is a non-proft-entity. (View the ruling in the Federal Register here.) To the contrary, our Catholic hospitals, universities, and service organizations exist to serve everyone, regardless of faith. Yet the Administration’s rule has essentially declared that these institutions are not religious enough to fully operate by their moral principles.
On February 10, 2012, the Administration made this rule final “without change”; delayed enforcement for a year against religious nonprofits that were still not exempted (our charities, hospitals, and colleges); and promised to develop more regulations to “accommodate” them by the end of that additional year. But that promised “accommodation” still forces them to pay for “services” that violate their religious convictions.
The Catholic Church and many other religious leaders are reiterating our firm position that the freedom to follow one’s conscience and to have access to health care are both fundamental human rights.
Local and National Statements and Information
Archdiocese Lenten Press Release, Feb.-21, 2012 (including statements from Archbishop Schnurr, Catholic Health Partners, Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio, St. Vincent de Paul — Cincinnati Council, Xavier University, and College of Mount St. Joseph)