On Feb. 1, I asked pastors across the
Diocese of Helena to bring to your attention
an alarming and serious matter that
strikes at the fundamental right to religious
liberty for all U.S. citizens, of any faith.
In my pastoral letter, I wrote of a new
U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services mandate that would have forced
virtually all employers, including
Catholic employers, to offer their employees
health coverage that includes
sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs
and contraception. Individuals like
yourselves would have been forced to
purchase those “services” as part of
your insurance coverage.
In so ruling, the administration cast
aside the First Amendment of the Constitution,
thus denying Catholics our nation’s
first and most fundamental freedom
– religious liberty.
I stated clearly and unequivocally, “We
cannot—we will not—comply with this
In response to pressures from church
leaders of every denomination, and reacting
to a firestorm of protest from Catholics
and from citizens of every faith, President
Obama announced changes in this insurance
mandate. Unfortunately, in seeking a
middle ground, the president has raised
new moral concerns, and left many serious
and vexing problems unaddressed.
By these regulatory changes, the president
has retained his “core principle” of
preventive care, continuing to mandate insurance
coverage for sterilization and contraception,
including some abortion-inducing
Health and Human Services is grouping
pregnancy with the other mandated
services designed to prevent disease,
appearing to classify pregnancy
as just one more preventable disease.
The HHS mandate imposes a burden of
unprecedented reach and severity on the
consciences of those who consider immoral
the “services” of sterilization, abortion-
inducing drugs and contraception.
Insurers are now forced to write policies
including this coverage.
It appears the government is creating its
own definition of who is “religious
enough” for full protection.
It appears that self-insured plans (in
which a religious organization is both employer
and insurer), and student health
plans offered by religious colleges and universities,
will be required to offer the objectionable
The mandate raises an unanswered
question of how insurers, now forced to
provide uncompensated services, will pay
It also seems clear that there is no exemption
for Catholics or other individuals
who work for secular employers, for individuals
who own or operate businesses or
for employers with moral but not religious
objections to some of the mandated “services,”
such as the providing of abortifacients.
Last Friday, the administration
assured religious leaders that these and
other related questions will be worked out
in the coming year.
Based on recent experience, the leadership
of the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops has expressed caution and misgivings
about the substance and sincerity of
this offer for further dialogue.
If the offer for substantial dialogue materializes,
you may be certain that the U.S.
bishops and other religious leaders will ask
the government to uphold important principles
as the policy is refashioned:
— Respect religious liberty. No government
has the right to intrude in the internal
affairs of the Church, much less, to coerce
the Church or its individual members to engage
in or cooperate with immoral practices.
— Ensure that the Church, and not the
government, will define its religious identity
Be assured that we will continue to oppose
the underlying policy of government
mandate for the purchase or promotion of
sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception.
The only complete solution is for HHS
to rescind the mandate of morally unacceptable
The genius of the American system of
government is found in its balance of powers.
When one branch of government, while
attempting to provide for the “rights” for
some, abridges religious liberty, tramples
upon individual consciences or violates
deeply held moral convictions, we have the
guaranteed right to protest, to seek opportunity
for dialogue, and to offer courses of
remedy that are consonant with our moral
and social teaching.
We also reserve the right to seek redress
through the courts and through the legislative
branch of the government.
We will, therefore, continue with no
less vigor and with no less sense of urgency,
our efforts to correct this problem
created by the HHS mandate. In these efforts
we will work with all branches of
government—executive, judicial and legislative.
We renew our call for Congress to pass,
and the president to sign, the Respect for
Rights of Conscience Act, and we ask our
Catholic parishioners to write our members
of the U.S. Senate and the House, seeking
their support for this measure.
We ask all of our fellow Americans to
join together in our effort to protect religious
liberty, seek freedom of conscience
for all citizens, and raise our collective
voices in unity whenever the proverbial
camel gets its nose too far under the tent.
Published in The Montana Catholic Online, Volume 28, No. 2, February 17, 2012.