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"The Second Vatican Council committed the Catholic Church to the promotion of religious freedom. The Declaration Dignitatis Humanae explains in its subtitle that it intends to proclaim “the right of the person and of communities to social and civil freedom in religious matters”. In order that this freedom, willed by God and inscribed in human nature, may be exercised, no obstacle should be placed in its way, since “the truth cannot be imposed except by virtue of its own truth”. The dignity of the person and the very nature of the quest for God require that all men and women should be free from every constraint in the area of religion. Society and the State must not force a person to act against his conscience or prevent him from acting in conformity with it."  Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 421.

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Defending Religious Freedom -- Background on the HHS Mandates

  • The Health Care Reform Law

The health care reform law (the "Affordable Care Act" or "ACA") was passed in 2010, and is a comprehensive regulation that impacts everyone in the United States. That law imposes three levels of mandates: (1) all individuals will be required to have a health insurance policy, or pay a fine to the government; (2) all employers (with a few exceptions for small businesses) will have to provide their employees with an insurance plan or pay a fine to the government; and (3) all insurance companies will have to cover a variety of things, including “preventive services”.

For more background information about the health care reform law, and what it will do about abortion, see here.

  • The HHS Contraception/Abortion Mandates

    In August 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS"), acting under the authority given to them by the ACA, announced regulations to define what had to be covered by health insurance policies under the term “preventive services”. These regulations required all employers and health insurance policies to cover contraceptives (including drugs that cause early abortions) and sterilizations. There was an extremely narrow exemption for religious employers, but no exemption for religious individuals or insurance companies with objections.

    There was considerable opposition, and thousands of people — including the U.S. Bishops and many other religious groups — filed comments with HHS, asking for the rejection of the regulation or the granting of a broader religious exemption. Nevertheless, on January 20, 2012, HHS announced that they were going to implement those regulations without any modification whatsoever.

    In response to the renewed public objections, the Administration has announced a series of new regulations that claim to offer a "compromise" or "accommodation" for religious organizations.  The U.S. Bishops and other religious groups have continued to object to these new regulations -- they offer only limited protection for the religious principles of faith-based organizations, and no protection for private companies or individuals. 

A statement about the final rules by Cardinal Dolan on behalf of the U.S. Bishops can be found here.

In 2012, HHS also issued a rule under ACA that will coerce many Americans to pay for elective abortions, in two ways: (1) Through their tax dollars all taxpayers will be forced to subsidize health plans that cover elective abortions and (2) Many Americans will also be forced to make a monthly payment that will be directly used to pay for elective abortions. There are no exemptions for those who object to abortion based on their conscience.

For more information about how to respond to these mandates, see below.

  • The Church's Challenge to the HHS Mandates

Since the announcement of the HHS Mandates, lawsuits were filed across the nation by Catholic dioceses and institutions, challenging the contraception and abortion mandates.  Dozens of private organizations and other faith-based groups have also filed suit.  For information about these lawsuits, see here.

The Archdiocese of New York (and our health care agency, ArchCare) was among the dioceses to file suit. The grounds for these lawsuits include the Free Exercise, Establishment and Free Speech clauses of the First Amendment, and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The essential arguments are that the HHS mandate intrudes upon our religious freedom by forcing our institutions to cooperate with moral evil and by intruding upon the Church's freedom to govern Herself, without interference from the state.

A press release about the Archdiocese lawsuit can be found here. A press release from Cardinal Dolan on behalf of the USCCB can be read here.


Resources for Education and Action on the HHS Mandates

There are many resources that can be used to educate people about the threat to religious liberty posed by the HHS Mandates:

  • Background from the USCCB, including fact sheets and statements by the bishops, can be found here.
  • Information from USCCB about the Coerced Abortion Payments announced in March 2012.
  • Resources, including flyers and bulletin inserts (in English and Spanish) from the USCCB.
  • Bulletin announcements about the HHS Mandate have been produced by our Office and are available in English and Spanish.  These can be used successively for four weeks.
  • A collection of articles and Cardinal Dolan's blog posts about the HHS Mandates.
  • Blog posts about the HHS Mandate.

People can also contact their representatives in Congress to urge them to overturn the HHS Mandates and protect the right to conscience:

  • Action alert from the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment.

We also urge people to participate in public prayer and witness to defend religious freedom, particularly against the HHS Mandates.

  • The United States Bishops are asking people to join in a special Fortnight for Freedom prayer campaign from June 21 through July 4.  For more information and resources, check here.


Resources for Education About Religious Liberty

There are a number of significant documents that should be consulted, to learn about the Church's teaching on religious liberty:

There are also many excellent resources available regarding religious liberty at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Edward T. Mechmann, Esq.
Public Policy Coordinator


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