Colorado’s three Catholic bishops are unanimously praising the “historic religious liberty decision” of the U.S. Supreme Court that allows for-profit businesses to exercise their religious beliefs and not comply with the Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate.
Businesses all across the United States express and act on moral views and the court acknowledged in its majority decision that there is no reason to deny that same freedom to companies whose moral convictions are based on religion,” the bishops said in a statement released June 30 by the Colorado Catholic Conference.
The conference speaks on behalf of Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs and Bishop Stephen Berg of Pueblo.
“The Church has an obligation to serve, and therefore, it needs the freedom to serve without government coercion of conscience and intrusion into religious beliefs,” the statement continued. “We encourage all people of good will to continue to pray for the protection of religious freedom in every sector of our society as guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
The 5-4 ruling was issued June 30, the last day of the court’s session for the year. The federal mandate had required that businesses with more than 50 employees provide birth control coverage in all their health insurance policies. The government mandated that the plans must include the morning-after pill and Plan B, which can terminate pregnancies, along with IUDs and diaphragms that prevent pregnancies.
The craft store Hobby Lobby, a nationwide chain owned by a Christian family, and the Mennonite-owned Conestoga Wood Specialties business argued that the mandate violated their religious liberties.
The court agreed, but the ruling is limited to for-profit companies that are “closely held,” meaning that there is essentially no difference between the owners and the business’ leadership.
Before the ruling, the exemption only applied to religious and non-profit institutions with religious affiliations. The for-profit religious businesses had faced hefty fines of $365 per day, per employee for not providing the birth control coverage.
The Catholic Church supported the for-profit lawsuits and is among the plaintiffs in another group of 50 non-profit lawsuits challenging the law, including one filed by the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor.
“We are hopeful that today’s decision will cast a favorable light on the ongoing non-profit cases still making their way through the legal process,” the Colorado bishops said.
Fortnight for Freedom
At a special Mass June 27 to mark the national campaign Fortnight for Freedom, Archbishop Aquila said Catholics need to pray for President Obama and other elected officials who support any laws that threaten religious liberty.
“It is ironic that religious freedom is now challenged by our own government,” the archbishop said, adding that he hoped prayer would “change the hearts of those who have become so hardened.”
Catholics—including those who are elected officials—should not take religious freedom for granted, the archbishop continued.
“Catholic politicians, on both sides,” are more often “dedicated to the political parties than they are to Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Aquila said. “Christ should always come first.”
About 200 people attended the evening Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Denver, which took place in the middle of the 14-day campaign for religious freedom initiated in 2012 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. From June 21 to July 4 the bishops ask Catholics to pray, learn about and take action in favor of promoting religious freedom worldwide.
Archbishop Aquila warned that certain laws are imposing beliefs that conflict with the Church’s teachings and are “requiring that we violate our conscience.” He urged all Catholics to respond by being vocal and voting.
“This is not unique to our time,” Archbishop Aquila said, referring to a series of martyrs that the Church celebrates at this time of year, including St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. He said they “all remained faithful in the face of persecution.”
Archbishop Aquila noted, however, that one of the most important forms of religious freedom is helping the poor and less fortunate in our community, a sentiment that reflected the theme of this year’s Fortnight: “Freedom to Serve.”
During the Mass, the archbishop gave a special blessing to four members of the Little Sisters of the Poor and 26 members of the Christ in the City missionary program.
“Bless and strengthen these humble servants who are close to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus,” he prayed.
For love of Christ
Among those receiving the blessing was Teri Tolpa who has ministered to the homeless and poor in Denver since last August. Tolpa, 29, is from Virginia and plans to enter the Sisters of Life program in New York City this fall. (Read a story about her on Page 9 of this week’s DCR.)
She dedicated a year to the Christ in the City missionary program, which includes visiting the homeless and helping unwed mothers.
“We just talk with the homeless and other people who have fallen through the cracks and help them find the resources they need,” Tolpa said after the Mass. “It is powerful to realize the dignity of the poor and that they are people just like you and me, but perhaps they do not have supportive families and friends.”
The missionaries do not proselytize, but often the homeless—sometimes shocked at the kindness of strangers—ask the young adults why they care, Tolpa said. Religious freedom allows the missionaries to do their work without fear, she said.
“Mother Teresa has taught us to love until it hurts. As Archbishop Aquila said, ‘it all starts with the Eucharist and that is the source that allows us to go to the people,’” she said. “People ask why we do it and we tell them, ‘for the love of Christ.’”
Buffer zones and marriage
On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a Massachusetts law that allowed 35-foot buffer zones around abortion clinics to keep demonstrators away violates First Amendment rights. It remains unclear if that ruling would impact a similar buffer law in Colorado that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000.
The Colorado law, passed in the 1990s, imposes an 8-foot buffer around patients and medical workers who step within 100 feet of entries to abortion clinics.
A lawsuit also is pending in Colorado challenging the state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Courts in other states have ruled similar measures unconstitutional.