Catholic Archbishop of Miami: ‘Little Sisters of the Poor Are Being Harassed by U.S. Government’

By Terence P. Jeffrey | April 21, 2016 | 12:13pm EDT
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami (Screen Capture)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty has produced a video on the "meaning of religious freedom" that features the archbishop of Miami, Fla., stating that the U.S. government—in pursuit of a regulation issued by the Obama administration--is harassing the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“Religious freedom is one of the basic freedoms of the person because without religious freedom, or freedom of conscience, all other freedoms are without foundation,” Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski says in the video, which was released April 12. Archbishop Wenski also chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“The Little Sisters of the Poor are being harassed by the U.S. government for a particular regulation in which the Obama administration deems it necessary that the sisters be compelled to participate in an insurance program that is against the precepts of their faith,” Archbishop Wenski says in the video.

The archbishop is referring to a regulation that the Department of Health and Human Services issued under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that requires most health insurance plans to cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs and devices. That regulation has been the target of many federal lawsuits, including the case of Zubik v. Burwell, which the Supreme Court heard last month. In that case--which bears the name of Roman Catholic Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh--the Little Sisters of the Poor are one of the parties asking the court to stop the administration from using the regulation to force them to act against their faith.

"Petitioners believe that in order to stay true to their Catholic faith, they may hire an insurance company only if it will not provide their students and employees with coverage that may destroy human life or artificially prevent its creation," says a brief that the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and other petitioners filed with the Supreme Court in Zubik.

"Stated another way," says the brief, "Petitioners exercise their religion by refusing to contract with or offer health plans through any company that will deliver the objectionable coverage to their students or employees in connection with their plans. Accordingly, in order to provide health coverage as an exercise of their religion, Petitioners must be left free to enter into such voluntary contracts without being penalized by the federal government."

The video—titled “The Right to Religious Freedom”--also features Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who chairs the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

“I think,” Archbishop Lori says in the video, “the way most ordinary people are beginning to notice it: It’s okay in church but don’t bring it to work, don’t run a business according to it, because it is no longer socially acceptable.”

“Religious freedom is foundational to our church and to American society,” Archbishop Lori said in the press release issued by the USCCB announcing the release of the video.

“This video,” Archbishop Lori said, “makes clear that the Little Sisters’ case must be viewed within the context of the church’s deep commitment to the right of every person to have the ability to practice their faith and choose what is right, free of government interference.”

In the video and the press release, Archbishop Lori cites the church document’ Dignitatis Humanae, which was a “declaration on religious freedom” that Pope Paul VI promulgated in 1965 as part of the Second Vatican Council.

Dignitatis Humanae said in part:

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.(2) This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

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