Catholic San Francisco

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Archbishop decries 'chilling, insidious, alarming' threat to religious liberty
February 6th, 2012
By George Raine


San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer is assailing a new federal rule that forces almost all employers, Catholics among them, to offer workers health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-including drugs and contraceptives, labeling it an unjust redrafting of the principal of religious liberty.
 
In a strongly worded rebuke of the edict, Archbishop Niederauer said in a statement that the government has effectively determined that religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals, Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services “are not truly religious employers because they do not have as their primary purpose ‘the inculcation of religious values’ and do not primarily limit their services to those of their own faith.
 
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on Jan. 20, promulgated what Archbishop Niederauer called “a new and radical interpretation of religious freedom” when it announced new regulations regarding health insurance coverage of reproductive services which will be mandatory for employers in the United States.
 
He slammed the rule as an “alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the church in the United States” and asked pastors and administrators to include a copy of his letter to Catholics in parish bulletins the weekend of Feb. 11-12.
 
At the conclusion of the letter, dated Feb. 6, Archbishop Niederauer asks parishioners to email or write the White House and elected representatives urging them to reverse or repeal the regulation.
 
He added, “We cannot – we will not – accept this unjust redrafting of the principle of religious liberty which our founders so rightly saw as an inalienable gift of God. People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens. And faith-based services to those in need in our society cannot be classified as non-religious by our national government.”
 
The rule on preventive health services, said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, “will ensure that women with health insurance coverage will have access to the full range of the Institute of Medicine’s recommended preventive services, including all FDA-approved forms of contraception.” She said the law is consistent with the laws in a majority of states which already require contraception coverage in health plans.
 
She said the decision was made “after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty,” and that in her view the rule “strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”
 

 

Many Catholic leaders, particularly Archbishop Niederauer, said that, to the contrary, the rule usurps the fundamental right to religious liberty to which U.S. citizens of all faiths are entitled.
 
He wrote that the United States, by this rule, has effectively determined that the religious activities in Catholic hospitals, Catholic social services to the poor and outreach to hurting and marginalized people are not religious activities protected by the First Amendment. That effectively is the government interpretation, he wrote, even while those activities “enshrine the Catholic belief” -- shared by virtually every religious community in the nation – “that religious communities are called to reach out to feed the poor, shelter the homeless and heal the sick precisely as a religious activity.”
 
If the rule is allowed to stand, Archbishop Niederauer wrote, the implications are “chilling.” If it is accepted that religious institutions that serve the poor, the sick and the elderly do not enjoy the full protections of religious liberty, future administrations could theoretically compel religious hospitals and service organizations to pay for insurance and other policies that mandate abortion or euthanasia, which the Catholic Church adamantly oppose, believing that all live has value.
 
Archbishop Niederauer added, “In addition, such a principle could likely create crises of conscience for religious institutions of virtually every faith, so that over time they would be forced out of the mainstream of the social fabric.”

 


Here is the text of Archbishop Niederauer's Feb. 6 letter to Catholics of the San Francisco archdiocese:

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

 

I write to you concerning an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly, and that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith.

 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services promulgated a new and radical interpretation of religious freedom last week when it announced new regulations regarding health insurance coverage of reproductive services which will be mandatory for employers in the United States.

 

For the first time in federal law, the government has determined that religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals, Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services are not truly religious employers because they do not have as their primary purpose “the inculcation of religious values” and do not primarily limit their services to those of their own faith.

 

In other words, the religious activities of our Catholic hospitals, our social services to the poor, and our outreach to the hurting and the marginalized in our society are not truly religious activities protected by the First Amendment because they enshrine the Catholic belief -- shared by virtually every religious community in the United States -- that religious communities are called to reach out to feed the poor, shelter the homeless, and heal the sick precisely as a religious activity.

 

 

The implications of this insidious new legal and policy principle, if allowed to stand, are chilling. Once it is accepted that religious institutions that serve the poor, the sick and the elderly do not enjoy the full protections of religious liberty, future administrations could compel religious hospitals and service organization to pay for insurance and other policies that mandate abortion or euthanasia. In addition, such a principle would likely create crises of conscience for religious institutions of virtually every faith, so that over time they would be forced out of the mainstream of the social fabric.

 


We cannot – we will not – accept this unjust redrafting of the principle of religious liberty which our Founders so rightly saw as an inalienable gift of God. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. And faith based service to those in need in our society cannot be classified as non-religious by our national government. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of many other faiths as well as others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Indeed, many journalists across the political spectrum, both supporters and opponents of the present administration, have called for a reversal of this policy.

 

Therefore, I ask for your help. Please email or write the White House and your representative in congress to call for a reversal of this new regulation. Finally, please join me in prayer for our Church and for the wider religious community engaged in this struggle.

 

May God bless you and your family, and keep you always in His loving care.

 

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Most Reverend George Niederauer
Archbishop of San Francisco

 

From Feb. 10, 2012, issue of Catholic San Francisco.

 

 


 

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