WASHINGTON—The U.S. bishops are strongly united in their ongoing and determined efforts to protect religious freedom, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said in a March 14, 2012, statement.
In the release, the Committee said it was “strongly unified and intensely focused in its opposition to the various threats to religious freedom in our day.” The bishops will continue their vigorous work of education on religious freedom, dialogue with the executive branch, legislative initiatives and efforts in the courts to defend religious freedom.”
The bishops noted that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that forces all private health plans to provide coverage of sterilization and contraceptives – including abortion-inducing drugs – called for an immediate response. Of particular concern, they said, are a religious exemption from the mandate that the bishops deem “arbitrarily narrow” and an “unspecified and dubious future ‘accommodation’’’ offered to other religious organizations that are denied the exemption.
The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, a member of the Administrative Committee, stated, “The recent debate regarding the now finalized mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been framed in many ways. To be clear,” Bishop Burbidge said, “at its heart, the mandate is not about access, but rather our government creating a new definition of what it is to be a person of faith.
“I ask all Catholics in the Diocese of Raleigh to contact their legislators, as we pursue the needed exceptions to this fundamentally unjust and intrusive mandate. But, most importantly,” Bishop Burbidge added, “I ask the faithful to join me in the announced day of prayer and fasting, scheduled for Friday, March 30th, with the intention that the religious liberty on which the United States was founded, may not be subject to the intrusion of government, but rather once again, be one of the hallmarks of the true freedom we have enjoyed together with all people of faith throughout our great country.”
The Administrative Committee thanked supporters from the Catholic community and beyond “who have stood firmly with us in our vigorous opposition to this unjust and illegal mandate.” The statement added, “It is your enthusiastic unity in defense of religious freedom that has made such a dramatic and positive impact in this historic public debate.”
The bishops said this dispute is not about access to contraceptives but about the government’s forcing the Church to provide them. Their concerns are not just for the Catholic Church but also for “those who recognize that their cherished beliefs may be next on the block.”
“Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the Church – consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions – to act against Church teachings,” they said.
The Church has worked for universal healthcare in the United States since 1919, they added, and said the current issue “is not a Republican or Democratic, a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American issue.”
The bishops called the HHS mandate “an unwarranted government definition of religion,” with government deciding who is a religious employer deserving exemption from the law.
“Government has no place defining religion and religious ministry,” they said. “If this definition is allowed to stand, it will spread throughout federal law, weakening its healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity.”
The bishops called for the Catholic faithful and all people of good will throughout the nation to join them in prayer and penance “for our leaders and for the complete protection of our First Freedom – religious liberty.”
“Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength,” the bishops said, “for without God we can do nothing. But with God all things are possible.”
Read the Administrative Board’s full statement