On Friday, January 20, 2012, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ruled that virtually all private health plans will be required to include sterilization and contraceptives, including abortion inducing drugs. A very restricted "religious exemption" is granted to religious groups only if they are serving people of the same belief in a very narrow setting such as a parish and employ people of their own faith. However, the Catholic Church in her health and social services reaches out to all those in need. In effect, the HHS ruling is presuming to define how the Catholic Church, or any religious institution, is to carry out its ministry as an expression of its faith. Essentially it is saying that freedom of religion pertains only to freedom of worship and religious teaching but not to the practice of religious faith in the charitable, social and health institutions of the Church. Some have pointed out the irony that under this definition Jesus' miracles and care for those around him would not qualify as religious.
This ruling represents an alarming intrusion of government into the affairs of the Catholic Church and other faith communities. It would require us to pay for and provide in our insurance coverage what the Church teaches to be morally wrong and a violation of Catholic teaching. This ruling, left unchanged, would put the Church into the untenable position of being required to violate her conscientious beliefs when she provides needed health insurance for her employees.
The conditions of the mandate are unconstitutional and violate the First Amendment because the government is overreaching its power in legislating which Church ministries will be exempted and which ones will not. It is outside the power of government to define religion in any way whatsoever. It also sets up a religious test to see whether our ministries are serving Catholics or non-Catholics.
If the government can intrude into the workings of the Catholic Church it can intrude into any religious organization in matters that are internal to the religious organization.
The Administration considers the mandate to be final. We have been given until August 1, 2013 to comply. WHAT CAN WE DO?
We must explore and pursue every option to repeal or reverse this unjust mandate through persuasion, advocacy, litigation and other means to protect religious liberty for all. We must especially convince Congress of the need for legislative action to overturn this injustice. You can do your part by contacting your federal legislators to begin this essential process.
I ask you to keep informed by visiting www.usccb.org/conscience. I ask you to pray that wisdom and justice prevail in our "one nation under God with liberty and justice for all."
- Most Reverend Stephen E. Blaire
Bishop of Stockton