A Bold Attack on Conscience and Religious Liberty

Most Reverend Paul S. Coakley, S.T.L., D.D.
Archbishop of Oklahoma City
February 05, 2012

February 5, 2012

In 1809, Thomas Jefferson affirmed that “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.” This very right of conscience which is so central to the fundamental right of religious liberty guaranteed in the First Amendment is under direct attack in the recent Health and Human Services Mandate issued by the current administration.

In spite of many protests since the issuance of the “interim final rule” on Aug. 1, 2011, the administration affirmed on Jan. 20, 2012, that this mandate will take effect as originally proposed. What does this mandate re-quire? In sum, it requires that virtually all private health insurance plans offered by employers must includecoverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives and female sterilization procedures. This coverage will include even abortifacient drugs, that is, drugs that prevent the implantation of the human embryo, thus causing an abortion at the very earliest stage of human life.

This federal mandate requires an unacceptable level of cooperation in moral evil. Catholics will be required to pay for contraceptive drugs and procedures which the Church teaches and believes to be gravely sinful and morally evil. Never before has the federal government dared to force citizens to directly purchase what violates their beliefs.
In the original “interim final rule,” an unacceptably narrow “religious exemption” was granted. It is so re-strictive, however, that while it might cover a parish staff, it would not include Church-sponsored ministries such as Catholic universities, Catholic health- care facilities or even Catholic charities. In spite of assurances given by the administration in the last few months, the only concession to the rights of conscience that has been offered, as of Jan. 20, is that Catholics in these institutions are being given one year to comply. In effect, we are being given 12 months to prepare to violate our consciences!

While not all Christians or people of faith will feel the full impact of this ruling, since not all hold our particular moral convictions about the sinfulness of these procedures, this is an encroachment on religious liberty and the rights of conscience that should alarm everyone! Today it is the Catholic Church. Who will it be tomorrow? This is an issue that is much broader than the so-called HHS “contraceptive mandate,” as it is being frequently identified. What does the mandate require? It requires the violation of conscience! This is an affront not only to the religious liberty guaranteed in our Constitution. It is a violation of the fundamental human right whose source is to be found not in any government, but in the Creator.

A silver lining may be emerging as a result of this controversy. There has been an emerging broad-based consensus and outcry that the administration has gone too far! I call upon the faithful of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, all people of faith, as well as all concerned citizens to join in prayer, fasting and political action to turn back this en-croachment on the rights of conscience and religious liberty. Pray that our president may rescind this mandate. This cannot stand!

For more information and to follow developments on this matter, I en-courage you to visit the USCCB webpage, which will be kept updated regularly. You can find it at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/

Priests for Life
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