religious liberty

Catholic and Evangelical Humanitarian Agencies Voice Concern Over Impact of Rule Regarding Unaccompanied Children

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 WASHINGTON—An interim final rule published by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services risks harmful effects on unaccompanied children resettled by the United States, according to comments filed by Catholic and Evangelical organizations and relief agencies. At issue is whether the rule adequately accounts for the religious and moral concerns of faith-based organizations. Regulations that may force those agencies to restrict their work could create an unmanageable backlog for services.
“We believe that, through practical discussions, we can find a resolution that allows the government to fulfill its obligation to care for unaccompanied children, while also respecting the religious and moral beliefs of faith-based organization that, to date, have provided such critical care for this vulnerable population,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said in joint comments filed on February 20 along with the National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision, Inc., Catholic Relief Services and World Relief.
The organizations stressed their commitment to support and strengthen protections for these minors in ways that respect the organizations’ religious and moral convictions. “In cases where pregnancy occurs, those of us participating in the program are willing to continue to provide health care access, as we have for years, in a manner consistent with our religious beliefs,” the comments noted.
The comments stated that the rule falls short of having adequate protections for those organizations with religious or moral objections to certain requirements under the rule, including providing minors and victims of sexual abuse access to “emergency contraception” and access “to all lawful pregnancy-related medical services,” which the comments indicated “apparently includes abortion.”
The comments also noted that the rule has implications regarding human sexuality and therefore requests that ORR ensure that organizations remain free to act in accord with their religious beliefs and moral convictions in the area of human sexuality when providing care for unaccompanied minors.
The comments responded to an interim final rule that was published in the Federal Register on December 24, 2014.
Currently, six out of nine national refugee resettlement agencies in the United States are faith-based organizations, including the USCCB, which is the largest in terms of persons served, and World Relief, which mobilizes the resources of the evangelical community. Together, these organizations resettle the majority of refugees entering the United States each year.
The full text of the comments is available online:

Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop Lori Urge Support for the Health Care Conscience Rights Act

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—Congress should reaffirm the principle that government “should not force anyone to stop offering or covering much-needed legitimate health care” because of a conscientious objection to abortion or other procedures, said Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore. In a February 13 letter to the House of Representatives, the bishops, who chair the Committee on Pro-Life Activities and the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), urged legislators to support and co-sponsor the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940).

It is increasingly obvious that Congress needs to act to protect conscientious objection to the taking of innocent human life,” wrote Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori. “Recently California’s Department of Managed Health Care began demanding that all health plans under its jurisdiction include elective abortions, including late-term abortions. This mandate has no exemption for religious or moral objections, and is being enforced against religious universities, schools and even churches. Similar proposals have emerged in Washington and other states.”

The bishops noted that the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) section of the bill would give firmer legal basis to the Weldon amendment, part of every Labor/HHS appropriations bill since 2004, which forbids governmental bodies receiving federal funds to discriminate against those who decline to take part in abortion or abortion coverage. They noted that President Obama has expressed support for the Weldon amendment.

In addition, the bishops said that H.R. 940 would incorporate respect for rights of conscience into the Affordable Care Act, allowing those who purchase, provide and sponsor health coverage under the Act to opt out of abortion or other specific items that violate their moral and religious convictions. Finally the bill would recognize a private right of action for victims of discrimination under either provision, so they can go to court to defend their rights.

“We strongly urge you to support and co-sponsor the Health Care Conscience Rights Act,” the bishops concluded.

The full text of the letter is available online:

Action Alert: Flawed “Sexual Orientation” Bill

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The Senate Judiciary has given a Do Not Pass recommendation to SB 2279, the very flawed bill to grant special legal rights to vaguely defined sexual activities and behaviors.

The Catholic Church affirms the God-given dignity of every human life and rejects unjust discrimination, but this bill is irredeemably flawed.  It’s vague definitions – or lack of them – extend to giving special legal protection to sexual acts.  Moreover, the bill lacks any meaningful protections for religious freedom.

Contact your state senator and urge him or her to vote No on SB 2279.

When: Now. The senate could vote on the bill as early as tomorrow.

Where: North Dakota Senate

How: The legislature’s email system is the best way at this time.

Message: Please vote NO on SB 2279.  I don’t support unjust discrimination against anyone, but this bill is too broad and does not protect sincere religious beliefs.

USCCB Chairman Gives Strong Support to the State Marriage Defense Act of 2015

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Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, gave strong support for the State Marriage Defense Act of 2015 (H.R. 824, S. 435) introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Randy Weber (R-TX) and in the U.S. Senate by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).
In letters of support dated February 11 to Representative Weber and Senator Cruz, Archbishop Cordileone noted that agencies within the Executive Branch of the federal government have begun using a rule that, contrary to the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision, allows a federal overruling of state marriage law. “By employing a ‘place of celebration’ rule, these agencies have chosen to ignore the law of the state in which people reside in determining whether they are married. The effect, if not the intent, of this choice is to circumvent state laws defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” said Archbishop Cordileone.
The Archbishop further indicated how it is that these federal agencies are acting contrary to Supreme Court precedent. “The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor, however, requires the federal government to defer to state marriage law, not disregard it.” He concluded that the State Marriage Defense Act of 2015 is necessary because it “would remedy this problem by requiring the federal government, consistent with Windsor, to defer to the marriage law of the state in which people actually reside when determining whether they are married for purposes of federal law.”
Archbishop Cordileone urged other members of Congress to join in supporting this legislation, saying, “Marriage needs to be preserved and strengthened, not redefined.  Every just effort to stand for the unique meaning of marriage is worthy of support.”

Archbishop Lori Praises Unanimous Supreme Court Decision Protecting the Religious Freedom of Muslim Prisoner

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WASHINGTON—Yesterday, in the case of Holt v. Hobbs, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of a Muslim inmate in an Arkansas state prison who sought to wear a half-inch beard in accordance with his faith.

“The decision in Holt v. Hobbs is a great victory for religious freedom,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, “because it underscores that each and every person enjoys this basic human right.”

“You don’t lose it if you subscribe to a minority faith, or even if you enter prison — in fact, you never lose it,” Archbishop Lori explained.  “That is because, as the Second Vatican Council taught 50 years ago in Dignitatis Humanae, ‘the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person.’”

The Court found that the State of Arkansas could not meet the requirements of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), which forbids the imposition of a “substantial burden” on religious exercise, unless the burden is the “least restrictive means” to serve a “compelling government interest.”

This “exceptionally demanding” test is virtually identical to the one established by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which is the principal basis for the successful federal civil rights lawsuits challenging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that employers cover sterilization, contraception, and drugs and devices that may cause abortion.

In May 2014, USCCB joined other religious groups in filing an amicus curiae brief at the Supreme Court in support of the position that prevailed in yesterday’s decision.  That brief is available online:

Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop Lori Urge Congress To Include Abortion Non-Discrimination Act in Funding Legislation

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Congress should incorporate the protections of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) into must-pass funding legislation, said the chairmen of two committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in a November 17 letter to Congress. Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore cited the California Department of Managed Health Care’s recent move to mandate elective abortions in all health plans under its jurisdiction, with no religious or moral exemption, as one urgent reason for Congress to improve federal laws protecting conscience rights on abortion.
“The crisis in California requires Congress to reaffirm a principle that has long enjoyed broad bipartisan support: Government should not force hospitals, doctors, nurses and other providers to stop offering or covering much-needed legitimate health care because they cannot in conscience participate in destroying a developing human life,” wrote Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori. They chair the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively.
Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori noted that such rules proposed in California and other states violate the longstanding Weldon amendment, which forbids governmental bodies receiving federal funds from discriminating against those who object to taking part in abortion or abortion coverage. However, that law lacks an effective means of enforcement and has been subject to legal challenges. The bishops support ANDA as an assurance of greater legal protection. Its protections were included in the U.S. House of Representatives’ draft version of the Labor/HHS appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2013, but that act was ultimately not passed by Congress.
“We strongly urge you to incorporate ANDA into must-pass funding legislation at your earliest possible opportunity,” the bishops concluded.

Archbishop Kurtz Provides Initial Response to Revised HHS Mandate Regulations

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Disappointed that regulation will not expand exemption, only modifies ‘accommodation’

Extending ‘accommodation’ to exempted businesses reduces religious freedom

More thorough study and detailed comments to come


WASHINGTON–Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it is issuing an additional set of interim final rules to implement its requirement that health plans, including employer-sponsored plans, provide for sterilization, contraception, and drugs that can cause an abortion. In response, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), provided the following statement:


“The Administration is once again revising its regulations on the HHS mandate. We will study the regulations carefully and will provide more detailed comments at a later date. In keeping with our practice, we will evaluate the regulations according to the principles set forth in ‘United for Religious Freedom,’ a March 2012 statement of the USCCB Administrative Committee that was later affirmed unanimously by the body of bishops at the General Assembly of June 2012.


“On initial review of the government’s summary of the regulations, we note with disappointment that the regulations would not broaden the “religious employer” exemption to encompass all employers with sincerely held religious objections to the mandate.  Instead, the regulations would only modify the “accommodation,” under which the mandate still applies and still requires provision of the objectionable coverage.  Also, by proposing to extend the “accommodation” to the closely held for-profit employers that were wholly exempted by the Supreme Court’s recent decision inHobby Lobby, the proposed regulations would effectively reduce, rather than expand, the scope of religious freedom.”

Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop Lori to Senate: Oppose Bill that Attacks Religious Freedom

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In a letter sent July 14 to all U.S. Senators, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore stated their “strong opposition to the misnamed ‘Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014’ (S. 2578).”  Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori chair the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively.

“Though cast as a response to the Supreme Court’s narrow decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the bill ranges far beyond that decision, potentially attacking all existing federal protections of conscience and religious freedom regarding health coverage mandates,” they wrote.

The two bishops identified several areas of concern with the bill, including its unprecedented curtailment of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993; its potential for overriding other federal conscience protections, including the Hyde-Weldon amendment on abortion; its application to coverage mandates beyond the HHS contraceptive mandate; its application to employers beyond for-profit businesses; and its denial of religious freedom for employees and their minor dependents, not just employers.

“In short, the bill does not befit a nation committed to religious liberty.  Indeed, if it were to pass, it would call that commitment into question. Nor does it show a genuine commitment to expanded health coverage, as it would pressure many Americans of faith to stop providing or purchasing health coverage altogether. We oppose the bill and urge you to reject it,” they wrote.

Full text of the letter is available online:

Oppose the Unprecedented Attack on Conscience and Religious Freedom

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As early as this week, the Senate may vote on a bill by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act (S. 2578). This measure would not only reverse the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, but go far beyond. S. 2578 negates any right that employers, insurers or employees may have, under Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) or any other federal law, to opt out of federally mandated coverage.

Please do what you can to urge people to oppose S. 2578. See the NCHLA Action Alert

This misnamed measure could potentially empower federal officials to mandate abortion or any other item in all health plans, forcing Americans to violate their deeply held religious and moral beliefs on respect for human life.

Setting the Record Straight on Hobby Lobby

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As soon as the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Hobby Lobby decision, critics of the decision began misrepresenting the opinion and its consequences. If a person were to believe some of the stuff appearing newspapers, press releases, and web sites, five Catholics on the U.S. Supreme Court declared that all corporations are persons under the Constitution and that these corporations now have a constitutional right to impose their religious beliefs on others, including their employees. The truth is something different.File:ReligiousFreedomStamp-1

The Court’s opinion did not deem corporations to be persons under the Constitution. It merely concluded that the language and history of a statute passed by Congress made the statute applicable to closely-held corporations. It was hardly a sweeping opinion granting expansive corporate rights.

That statute is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). It was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 after Congress passed it almost unanimously.  It says a federal policy cannot “substantially burden” a person’s religious freedom, unless it serves a “compelling state interest” in a way that is “least restrictive” of that freedom.

Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration decided that it had the authority to force family businesses to provide contraceptives at no cost to its employees, even if the family had religious objections to providing such services. Hobby Lobby and the other challengers objected to just four of the twenty required contraceptives because those four may operate after the fertilization of an egg, effectively acting as an abortifacient.

Some critics of the decision have called the Court “anti-science” because it did not look at studies purportedly showing that the four drugs only work to prevent fertilization. The Obama Administration, however, conceded that the four drugs may result in the destruction of an embryo. It is not the role of the Supreme Court to bring up and examine facts that are not in dispute. The Court was not being anti-science. It was respecting the judicial process.

The Court did not decide whether the Administration had a “compelling interest” in requiring employers to provide cost-free access to the four drugs. It did not have to make that decision because the burden imposed on the companies for not providing the four drugs was clearly substantial – fines in the millions of dollars – and because the government had a variety of other methods at its disposal to provide women the four drugs at no cost without requiring direct involvement by the companies.

It is important to remember that this decision is not about the Constitution. The Court was applying a unique set of facts – these four drugs, the particulars of the contraception mandate, and these three family businesses – to a specific law – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. People who do not like the decision should not blame the Court. It was Congress that overwhelmingly passed RFRA and the Obama Administration that so clearly disregarded it when it conjured up the mandate.

A lack of understanding of the law might be excusable if it was not coupled with not-so-thinly-veiled hostility toward the Catholic Church. From the Huffington Post, to a full-page advertisement in the New York Times, to a weekly columnist in North Dakota’s own Fargo Forum, anti-Catholicism, America’s last acceptable prejudice, rears its ugly head again.

Apparently unable to understand the law or direct their displeasure at the Obama Administration, these new Know-Nothings blame the five Roman Catholics consisting of the Court’s majority in the opinion. (A sixth Catholic, Justice Sotomayor sided with the minority.) If you don’t like the outcome, blame the Catholics. If you don’t understand the law, blame the Catholics.

For the record, neither the owners of Hobby Lobby or the other businesses involved in the case are Catholic. Nor was Congress controlled by Catholics when it passed RFRA in 1993. Nor, as some have alleged with conspiratorial overtones, did the Catholic Church finance Hobby Lobby’s legal challenge. But the record, like the law and the rest of the facts, are of no concern to those whose single focus appears to be hostility toward religion or a fanaticism for cost-free abortifacients.

Christopher Dodson, Executive Director
North Dakota Catholic Conference
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