Government must not dictate our beliefs

Anyone who has ever visited Mullen Home for the Aged and the Little Sisters of the Poor is well aware of the ministry of charity they provide to the elderly and dying at their residential home.  They serve those who are on limited incomes and provide a home for them imbued with the values of the Gospel.

The Little Sisters of the Poor have to be one of the least likely groups to sue the federal government, but they did so last September because they cannot compromise their Catholic faith and accept the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate, which includes sterilization and abortifacients.

On Dec. 31 their case jumped into the national spotlight when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted them temporary relief from the mandate. But on Jan. 3 the U.S Justice Department, in a brief protesting the relief and calling for its cancelation, demonstrated that it does not understand that the sisters sincerely believe in the Church’s teachings.

The government’s lawyers said that the Little Sisters only need to accept the accommodation that President Barack Obama offered religious institutions that object to the mandate. All that Mother Provincial Loraine Marie Maguire would need to do, they asserted, is sign a form that says the sisters object to providing contraceptives–some of which can cause a chemical abortion–and sterilizations on religious grounds.

What the lawyers for the Department of Justice did not emphasize is that by signing the form, Mother Maguire would also be designating a third-party administrator to pay for and provide those same immoral services to her employees.

The Little Sisters of the Poor and many Catholic and Christian institutions have maintained that the administration’s accommodation is just a shell game, since they are still required to pay the third-party administrator for providing the services they cannot morally support because they violate the dignity of the human person. The conscience of Catholics is violated by the action of the government.

The Obama administration does not seem to comprehend that an accounting scheme does not carry weight in moral matters. It also does not appear to understand that the Church’s teaching on contraception is clear, is drawn from sacred tradition and the Scriptures, and is binding on all Catholics who put their faith in Jesus Christ and the Church.

This legal and legislative battle is bigger than the government forcing religious sisters to set aside their convictions. Indeed, this mandate sets a precedent that should concern all people of faith.

The Obama administration has decided that the Catholic beliefs about contraception, potentially abortion-causing drugs like Ella, and sterilization are only lawful for Catholics to hold if they work for physical churches. If you are Catholic and own a business, you must forfeit your beliefs when you open your doors to the public. If you are Evangelical and run a nonprofit, such as a charity that helps orphans, you must provide potentially abortion-inducing drugs like Plan-B to your employees.

If you refuse to sacrifice your beliefs and violate your conscience, you will be fined up to $36,500 per employee, per year. These crippling fines will take away the livelihood of people who do good and charitable works because their faith moves them to work for the common good and the good of society.

In other words, the administration is attempting to enclose belief within the four walls of church buildings and state that a person should not bring their faith into the public square.

This is a clear violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prevents the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

When the Obama administration decided to promulgate the Health and Human Services mandate, in essence it said that it knew better than Catholics, Evangelicals, Baptists, Mormons, Orthodox Jews and Muslims what they should believe, and that it would use the force of law to make objectors comply with its decisions.

Regardless of the outcome of the 91 lawsuits working their way through the nation’s court system, the larger problem of the state regulating religion remains a long-term concern.

The government does a great disservice to its citizens when it punishes and obstructs people of faith who seek to put their faith into action in the public square. Our nation is strengthened by people of faith, not threatened by them.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, for example, have been caring for the elderly poor in Denver since 1917, providing a home to people from every race and religion. Their mission statement describes their ministry as offering the neediest a “home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family, and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.”

Denver and the rest of our country need their loving kindness for the disadvantaged and elderly, and our society would be poorer without it.

I urge every Catholic in the archdiocese to seek the Lord, to encounter him and his love in your heart. Then, share God’s love and mercy with your family, your workplace and the world. And when you encounter the Lord in your heart, pray for a victory for the freedom of religion.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”