'We Will Not Run From This Fight'

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3/30/2012

 

Religious freedom is under attack, and we will not cease our struggle to protect it.

by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan

hhs

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that there is more "confusion than clarity" in the revised federal contraceptive mandate and urged U.S. bishops to continue their fight against "mandates that require us to violate our moral convictions."

The following abridged letter, dated March 2, was sent to U.S. bishops by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Since Jan. 20, when the final, restrictive HHS Rule was first announced, we have become certain of two things: religious freedom is under attack, and we will not cease our struggle to protect it. We recall the words of our Holy Father Benedict XVI to our brother bishops on their recent ad limina visit: “Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.” … We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans. We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it. …

When [President Barack Obama] announced on Jan. 20 that the choking mandates from HHS would remain, not only we bishops and our Catholic faithful, but people of every faith, or none at all, rallied in protest.

Of course, we maintained from the start that this is not a “Catholic” fight alone. I like to quote as often as possible a nurse who emailed me, “I’m not so much mad about all this as a Catholic, but as an American.” And as we recall, a Baptist minister, Governor Mike Huckabee, observed, “In this matter, we’re all Catholics.” ...

When [President Barack Obama] announced on Jan. 20 that the choking mandates from HHS would remain, not only we bishops and our Catholic faithful, but people of every faith, or none at all, rallied in protest. The worry that we had expressed — that such government control was contrary to our deepest political values — was eloquently articulated by constitutional scholars and leaders of every creed.

On Feb. 10, the president announced that the insurance providers would have to pay the bill, instead of the Church’s schools, hospitals, clinics or vast network of charitable outreach having to do so. ... The [bishops’] conference announced at first that ... we would certainly give the president’s proposal close scrutiny. Well, we did — and as you know, we are as worried as ever.

For one, there was not even a nod to the deeper concerns about trespassing upon religious freedom, or of modifying the HHS’ attempt to define the how and who of our ministry. Two, since a big part of our ministries are “self-insured,” we still ask how this protects us. ... And what about forcing individual believers to pay for what violates their religious freedom and conscience? We can’t abandon the hardworking person of faith who has a right to religious freedom. … In many ways, the announcement of Feb. 10 solved little and complicated a lot. …

We will ardently continue to seek a rescinding of the suffocating mandates that require us to violate our moral convictions, or at least insist upon a much wider latitude to the exemptions so that churches can be free of the new, rigidly narrow definition of church, minister and ministry that would prevent us from helping those in need, educating children and healing the sick, no matter their religion.

In this regard, the president invited us to “work out the wrinkles.” We have accepted that invitation. Unfortunately, this seems to be stalled: the White House Press Secretary, for instance, informed the nation that the mandates are a fait accompli. … The White House already notified Congress that the dreaded mandates are now published in the Federal Registry “without change.” The secretary of HHS is widely quoted as saying, “Religious insurance companies don’t really design the plans they sell based on their own religious tenets.” That doesn’t bode well for their getting a truly acceptable “accommodation.”

At a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff, our staff members asked directly whether the broader concerns of religious freedom — that is, revisiting the straitjacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption — are all off the table. They were informed that they are. So much for “working out the wrinkles.” …

We will continue to accept invitations to meet with and to voice our concerns to anyone of any party — for this is hardly partisan — who is willing to correct the infringements on religious freedom that we are now under. ...

Congress might provide more hope, since thoughtful elected officials have proposed legislation to protect what should be so obvious: religious freedom. Meanwhile, in our recent debate in the Senate, our opponents sought to obscure what is really a religious freedom issue by maintaining that abortion-inducing drugs and the like are a “woman’s health issue.” We will not let this deception stand. Our commitment to seeking legislative remedies remains strong. And it is about remedies to the assault on religious freedom. Period. …

Perhaps the courts offer the most light. In the recent Hosanna-Tabor ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously defended the right of a church to define its own ministry and services, a dramatic rebuff to the administration, apparently unheeded by the White House. Thus, our bishops’ conference, many individual religious entities, and other people of good will are working with some top-notch law firms who feel so strongly about this that they will represent us pro-bono. In the upcoming days, you will hear much more about this encouraging and welcome development.

Given this climate, we have to prepare for tough times. … We know so very well that religious freedom is our heritage, our legacy and our firm belief, both as loyal Catholics and Americans. There have been many threats to religious freedom over the decades and years, but these often came from without. This one sadly comes from within. As our ancestors did with previous threats, we will tirelessly defend the timeless and enduring truth of religious freedom.