My dear Friends:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), under the direction of the Obama Administration, mandated on Jan. 20 that religious-affiliated institutions, such as hospitals and universities, among others, would be obligated to include contraception — including drugs that cause abortions — and sterilization among “preventive services” coverage in virtually all health plans offered to Americans. Despite clear requests from U.S. Catholic Bishops, other religious leaders and concerned Americans, prompted by the HHS’s initial decision in August 2011, HHS has refused to expand the exemption to include such religious-affiliated institutions.
In response to this ruling, the HHS has received widespread condemnation for its restriction on the free exercise of religion in the United States.
This condemnation is not without merit. Throughout our history, countless people have fled to America for freedom, especially the freedom to exercise their religious faith. They come knowing that one’s religion impacts all aspects of life. Faith helps them form their conscience so they may know right from wrong. Faith is the underlying truth that gives meaning to their actions. Faith guides them as they grow in relationship with God, as they discover that transcending happiness for which each of us longs. So important is this inalienable right of religious freedom to one’s pursuit of happiness, our founding fathers enshrined it in the First Amendment of our Constitution along with other precious rights including the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and the freedom of assembly.
The role of faith is all the more integral in institutions established by people of faith to help the members of society. Whether it is education, health care, social charities, worship or another activity, each activity is an expression of faith. Each one has a unique quality flowing from that basis of faith. To deny that underpinning of faith is to change the very character of the institution and of the service it provides. This ruling by HHS denies this underpinning of faith. It ignores the diverse ways through which faith is expressed. It forces people to act against their free, conscious decisions made in the light of faith.
It is a decision symptomatic of the radical secularism gripping our society. Those who hold to this secularism believe that religion is a private matter, relevant only when members of the same faith gather together. Thus, they have no qualms telling people of faith that you must violate your conscience in everyday activities to do what we say is right. They strive to replace the values of life discerned in faith’s light with the unfulfilling values of radical secularism and the culture of death. They see religion as a burden on public life and hold that it should have no part in everyday interactions. Thus, they ignore the uniqueness that faith brings to the actions of an individual and of faith-based institutions.
It is indeed a sad commentary that, even as the Supreme Court unanimously rules against government restrictions on the exercise of religion in the recent Hosanna-Tabor decision, a department of the United States government is still actively restricting the free exercise of religion counter to the Constitution.
Every religion strives to know the truth of God. And, the right to freely pursue the truth of God is a treasured hallmark of our democracy. We will not idly stand by as this inalienable right is marginalized. Together with other Bishops and other Americans we will work to reform the law and change this unjust and intolerant regulation.
Yours devotedly in the Lord,
Most Rev. Roger J. Foys, D.D.
Bishop of Covington