Anyone who has ever visited Mullen Home for the Aged and the Little Sisters of the Poor is well aware of the ministry of charity they provide to the elderly and dying at their residential home. They serve those who are on limited incomes and provide a home for them imbued with the values of the Gospel.
The Little Sisters of the Poor have to be one of the least likely groups to sue the federal government, but they did so last September because they cannot compromise their Catholic faith and accept the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate, which includes sterilization and abortifacients.
On Dec. 31 their case jumped into the national spotlight when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted them temporary relief from the mandate. But on Jan. 3 the U.S Justice Department, in a brief protesting the relief and calling for its cancelation, demonstrated that it does not understand that the sisters sincerely believe in the Church’s teachings.
The government’s lawyers said that the Little Sisters only need to accept the accommodation that President Barack Obama offered religious institutions that object to the mandate. All that Mother Provincial Loraine Marie Maguire would need to do, they asserted, is sign a form that says the sisters object to providing contraceptives–some of which can cause a chemical abortion–and sterilizations on religious grounds.
What the lawyers for the Department of Justice did not emphasize is that by signing the form, Mother Maguire would also be designating a third-party administrator to pay for and provide those same immoral services to her employees.
The Little Sisters of the Poor and many Catholic and Christian institutions have maintained that the administration’s accommodation is just a shell game, since they are still required to pay the third-party administrator for providing the services they cannot morally support because they violate the dignity of the human person. The conscience of Catholics is violated by the action of the government.
The Obama administration does not seem to comprehend that an accounting scheme does not carry weight in moral matters. It also does not appear to understand that the Church’s teaching on contraception is clear, is drawn from sacred tradition and the Scriptures, and is binding on all Catholics who put their faith in Jesus Christ and the Church.
This legal and legislative battle is bigger than the government forcing religious sisters to set aside their convictions. Indeed, this mandate sets a precedent that should concern all people of faith.
The Obama administration has decided that the Catholic beliefs about contraception, potentially abortion-causing drugs like Ella, and sterilization are only lawful for Catholics to hold if they work for physical churches. If you are Catholic and own a business, you must forfeit your beliefs when you open your doors to the public. If you are Evangelical and run a nonprofit, such as a charity that helps orphans, you must provide potentially abortion-inducing drugs like Plan-B to your employees.
If you refuse to sacrifice your beliefs and violate your conscience, you will be fined up to $36,500 per employee, per year. These crippling fines will take away the livelihood of people who do good and charitable works because their faith moves them to work for the common good and the good of society.
In other words, the administration is attempting to enclose belief within the four walls of church buildings and state that a person should not bring their faith into the public square.
This is a clear violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prevents the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
When the Obama administration decided to promulgate the Health and Human Services mandate, in essence it said that it knew better than Catholics, Evangelicals, Baptists, Mormons, Orthodox Jews and Muslims what they should believe, and that it would use the force of law to make objectors comply with its decisions.
Regardless of the outcome of the 91 lawsuits working their way through the nation’s court system, the larger problem of the state regulating religion remains a long-term concern.
The government does a great disservice to its citizens when it punishes and obstructs people of faith who seek to put their faith into action in the public square. Our nation is strengthened by people of faith, not threatened by them.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, for example, have been caring for the elderly poor in Denver since 1917, providing a home to people from every race and religion. Their mission statement describes their ministry as offering the neediest a “home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family, and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.”
Denver and the rest of our country need their loving kindness for the disadvantaged and elderly, and our society would be poorer without it.
I urge every Catholic in the archdiocese to seek the Lord, to encounter him and his love in your heart. Then, share God’s love and mercy with your family, your workplace and the world. And when you encounter the Lord in your heart, pray for a victory for the freedom of religion.
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila currently serves as the Archbishop of Denver, Colo. with the episcopal motto, “Do whatever he tells you. (Jn 2:5)”
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.