Vatican Chief Justice: Obama Administration's Treatment of Religious Freedom Contradicts America's Founding Principles

Michael W. Chapman | December 17, 2013 | 1:04pm EST
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Raymond Leo Burke, archbishop emeritus of St. Louis, Mo., and current prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court at the Vatican, in Rome. (AP)

( – Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who heads the Vatican's highest court, says that the Obama administration's diminution of religious freedom in the United States “is an absolute contradiction of the founding principles of this nation.”

Cardinal Burke, who is chief justice of the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura, made his remarks during a Dec. 13 interview with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo on the program, The World Over.

Arroyo asked the cardinal about the Obama administration’s decision in late November to move the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See--he Vatican is a sovereign state--from its present location and place it within grounds of the U.S. Embassy to Italy.

That decision was roundly criticized by several former U.S. ambassadors to the Holy See, including Democrat Ray Flynn, who viewed it as a step down, a diminishing in the relationship between the United States and the Vatican.

Arroyo asked Cardinal Burke: “The question is, does that [the embassy relocation] in any way--is the perception, and I’ve been speaking to some of the former Vatican ambassadors and they are concerned about the perception of the message this sends to the Holy See, that somehow the United States does not think you [the Vatican] are worthy of having a stand-alone embassy any longer.”

Cardinal Burke said: “Well, it does give that impression, to be honest. But I have to say, given the way the present administration treats the Catholic Church in general, that wouldn’t surprise me too much.”

President Barack Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

Then the cardinal turned to the Obamacare mandate saying: “This whole disaster on conscience rights and so forth--"

Arroyo: "The HHS mandate, contraception mandate, in the health-care law."

Cardinal Burke: "The whole question, the idea that, yes, you can have freedom of religion but it’s reduced now to freedom of worship, you can do whatever you want in the four walls of your church but, beyond that, what you believe in the depth of your heart is of no importance to the government of the United States of America--which, by the way, is an absolute contradiction of the founding principles of this nation. That the nation doesn’t care anymore, or the government, I should say, about this relationship [with the Vatican], I could believe it.”

Under the Obamacare contraception mandate, issued as a regulation by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nearly all health insurance plans must provide coverage, without fees or co-pay, for  contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs. Only churches themselves, religious orders and the immediate auxiliaries of churches are fully exempt from the regulation.

Catholic hospitals, universities and charities are not exempt, or are individuals, even though contracaptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs violate Catholic teaching, and are considered serious sins.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has described this Obamacare regulation as an “unjust and illegal mandate” that violates religious freedom under the First Amendment, and explained that it affects employers and nearly all individuals, which the bishops said is a “violation of personal civil rights.”

In a joint letter last year, the two bishops for Virginia explained the circumstances and said, “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.”

“People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens,” said Bishops Paul Loverde (Arlington diocese) and Francis X. DiLorenzo (Richmond diocese).  “We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God-given rights.”

House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In February 2012, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) criticized the HHS rule in a speech on the House floor.  Boehner, a Catholic, said: "My colleagues, in recent days, Americans of every faith and political persuasion have mobilized in objection to a rule put forward by the Obama administration that constitutes an unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country.”

“In imposing this requirement, the federal government has drifted dangerously beyond its constitutional boundaries, encroaching on religious freedom in a manner that affects millions of Americans and harms some of our nation's most vital institutions,” said the Speaker.

"If the president does not reverse the department's attack on religious freedom," said Boehner, "then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution that we are sworn to uphold and defend, must."

Despite those assurances, the U.S. House of Representatives has worked out several federal spending resolutions with the Senate and the White House that include funding for the implementation of Obamacare, including the rule that Boehner himself said violates religious freedom in America.

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