CARACAS, Venezuela — In response to a renewed constitutional crisis in the country, the Venezuelan bishops’ conference has called for “peaceful civil disobedience” to restore constitutional order. Read more »
WASHINGTON — A Sept. 9 letter from USCCB officials to the Department of Health and Human Services stressed that a compromise could effectively be reached in the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement.
The letter, in response to the government’s request for comments on a proposal mandating contraceptive coverage, echoed the Supreme Court’s May 16 decision in Zubik v. Burwell — the combined lawsuit of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life, and several other religious groups, that said providing contraception coverage to employees through their insurance plans violated their religious beliefs.
The court sent the cases back to the lower courts saying religious employers and the government should be “afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.”
For this accommodation to happen, the USCCB letter stressed that “any government-mandated contraceptive coverage must be truly independent of petitioners and their plans,” meaning the coverage should be offered by a separate communication and with a different policy, enrollment process, insurance card and payment source.
The letter, signed by members of the USCCB’s general counsel, also said such coverage should not be automatic in order to protect the conscience rights of people with religious objections to contraception and sterilization coverage.
It said that another look at the HHS contraceptive requirement provides an opportunity for the government to “bring to an end years of church-state litigation and, in turn, to avoid a legacy of ongoing and unnecessary conflict with substantial portions of the religious community in the United States.”
It also noted that the Supreme Court had urged the litigants “to resolve this matter amicably” which the letter said they had done by “describing, in good faith and in great detail, a way to reach an amicable resolution.”
But these groups cannot change the regulations, the letter added, stressing that only the government could and should do this instead of ignoring “the sincerely held and repeatedly stated religious objections of a substantial minority of our civil society.”
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — With a tie vote June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Obama administration’s plan to temporarily protect more than 4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation. Read more »
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court May 16 sent the Zubick v. Burwell case, which challenges the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement for employers, back to the lower courts.
The justices’ unanimous decision, explained in a nine-page order, was based on the information that both sides submitted a week after oral arguments were heard in the case about how and if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to this coverage.
The court made clear that it is not expressing an opinion on the merits of the cases that are challenging aspects of the federal government’s health legislation and it also was not ruling on the issue of a potential violation of religious freedom.
Because of the “gravity of the dispute and the substantial clarification and refinement in the positions of the parties,” the court stated that religious employers and the government should be “afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.”
The court stressed that this approach is “more suitable” than addressing the refined positions submitted by both sides and added that “although there may still be areas of disagreement between the parties on issues of implementation, the importance of those areas of potential concern is uncertain, as is the necessity of this court’s involvement at this point to resolve them.”
Five appeals courts had ruled in favor of the contraceptive mandate and one had ruled against it. But now, equipped with the new information both sides submitted to the Supreme Court, the lower courts have been ordered to review these cases once more.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote separately to stress that the court had not decided any of the legal questions in the cases and cautioned the lower courts not to read anything into the new opinion.
“This is a game-changer,” said Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of the group’s challenging the federal contraceptive mandate.
He said the opinion reflects that the court has “accepted the government’s concession” that it can provide contraceptives to women “without using the Little Sisters.”
He also was pleased the court was forbidding the government “from fining the Little Sisters even though they are refusing to bow to the government’s will. It is only a matter of time before the lower courts make this victory permanent,” he said in a May 16 statement.
Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl had a more nuanced look at the court’s opinion, saying he was pleased that it offered a path forward, but he also acknowledged that “this struggle will continue.”
The Washington Archdiocese is one of several plaintiffs in this case.
The cardinal said the archdiocese will continue its work to “serve others in education, health care, social services, and outreach to the poor and those most in need. We will continue to do that because we are resolute that it is precisely by being true to our Catholic identity in what we proclaim and in what we do that we can continue to help realize a truly good and just society.”
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, another of the plaintiffs, said the organization’s officials are “studying the implications of this development and are encouraged by it.”
He said the group, in response to the court’s request for more information, showed that there is “a way for the government to pursue its objectives without burdening our freedom of religion. We are ready to present these new arguments in the court of appeals.”
This is not the first time the court has sent a case back to the lower courts in light of new developments.
The opinion stressed that sending the case back to lower courts should not affect the government from making sure women covered by petitioners’ health plans obtain FDA-approved contraceptives, but it also means the government “may not impose taxes or penalties on petitioners for failure to provide the relevant notice” stating their objection to the coverage.
The court’s opinion “can be seen as both a reset and a pause,” said Richard Garnett, a University of Notre Dame law professor, who said the decision doesn’t end the argument but it “wipes away” several lower court opinions that had ruled against the religious challengers. He said the court’s action also delays a further ruling until a new justice is on the court.
Garnett said if Justice Antonin Scalia were still on the bench, a majority would have likely ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor and the other challengers.
“The government’s admissions in oral argument and in the supplemental briefs appear to have made it possible for the justices to avoid a confusing and inefficient 4-4 tie and for all eight to agree on this intermediate step,” he added.
Legal analyst Lyle Denniston, who writes for scotusblog.com, a blog on the Supreme Court, similarly pointed out that the court’s attempt at compromise shows how it is “having to adjust its actions to deal with the fact that it is one justice short of its normal membership.”
He also noted that varied reactions to the court’s opinion shows that it “may take some time for observers to sort out just what the court has done and its implications.”
Oral arguments for Zubik v. Burwell were heard March 23 and the court asked for additional information March 29. The case involves the Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life, the Pennsylvania dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, and the Archdiocese of Washington and other religious groups challenging the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that most religious and other employers must cover contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients through employer-provided health insurance.
These groups, who do not fit the narrow exemption to the contraceptive mandate given to churches, argued that providing contraceptive coverage even indirectly through a third party, as the Obama administration allows through what it calls an accommodation, still violates their religious beliefs.
Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — During oral arguments March 23 at the Supreme Court, attorneys on both sides of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement examined how the mandate either violates or strikes a balance with religious freedom.
Lawyers representing the seven groups of plaintiffs said the federal government’s so-called accommodation for religious employers to arrange for a third party to provide contraceptive coverage in health plans was inconsistent because the government already had been able to provide churches an exemption from the requirement.
Paul Clement of the Washington-based Bancroft firm, who was one of two lawyers representing the plaintiffs, argued that religious freedom was at stake in the federal government’s accommodation because even though the contraceptive coverage would be supplied by a third party, the religious employers would still be complicit in providing something that goes against their beliefs.
“The problem is we have to fill out a form, and the consequence of us filling out that form is we will be treated very differently from those other religious employers” that are exempt, he said.
U.S. Solicitor General Donald Beaton Verrilli Jr., in defending the federal government, argued that the government’s accommodation struck the necessary balance required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
RFRA says that if a law restricts the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the Constitution, there must be a compelling government interest to do so and it must not place an unreasonable burden on the religious exercise.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stressed that “no one doubts for a moment the sincerity” of the religious employers that object to providing contraceptive health care coverage, but she and other justices indicated that such a belief goes up against the compelling interest of the government’s plan to provide health coverage for women, and the accommodation sought to find that balance.
Clement argued that an accommodation isn’t “immune from RFRA analysis” and that the problem is giving an accommodation to some religious groups, but not all.
Noel Francisco of Jones Day, arguing on behalf of the dioceses who are plaintiffs, also noted that if the government is willing to address the contraceptive coverage in some ways for groups that meet the accommodation standard, than they should look to other ways for other religious groups to be exempt as well.
There was a fair amount of back and forth on where the government should draw the line and if it draws it one place, should it draw it again, or should it never have drawn the line in the first place?
Verrilli said the government’s line has not always been perfect, but it did try to try to strike a balance. There is an objective limit to what RFRA can do, he added.
He also said the government’s solution was the least restrictive approach, and he also did not think the plaintiffs, by using third parties, were complicit in what they disagreed with, even though they have stated again and again they feel that way.
As the discussion centered on health exchanges, grandfathered clauses and exemptions, Chief Justice John Roberts summed up the argument with Verrilli as the government’s desire for a “seamless” health care package versus the religious objections of the plaintiffs.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life and the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania, and the Archdiocese of Washington are among numerous plaintiffs around the country consolidated into Zubik v. Burwell.
The case is named for Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the current secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, most religious and other employers are required to cover contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients through employer-provided health insurance. Refusal to comply subjects nonexempt employers to heavy fines.
A very narrow exemption for churches and religious orders was permitted from the start, but several Catholic and other religious institutions and ministries that were not exempted, such as colleges, hospitals and charitable providers, said they could not participate in providing contraceptives without violating their beliefs.
The Obama administration then created its accommodation, or “work-around,” that allows objecting employers to acknowledge their opposition to the contraceptive coverage by notifying HHS in a letter. This triggers an arrangement for a third party to provide the coverage. These employers still found the “opt-out” provision objectionable.
Five years later, several circuit courts of appeal ruled that religious entities, such as the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor, were not substantially burdened by the opt-out procedures. Only one such court, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a September ruling, accepted the nonprofits’ argument that complying with the opt-out provision violates their religious beliefs.
In the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court relied on RFRA to rule in favor of two family-owned private businesses, Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties, who argued that providing contraceptives in health care coverage to employees was contrary to the owners’ Christian beliefs.
Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — Just as many pilgrims are passing through the Holy Door at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in this Year of Mercy, the casket bearing the body of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia entered through the door Feb. 20.
Father Paul Scalia, the justice’s son and the main celebrant and homilist at his father’s funeral Mass, said the fact that Scalia’s casket was carried through that door of mercy was a great blessing. In his homily, he emphasized that his father was a man of faith, dedicated to his family and service to his country, a man who relied on God’s mercy and was sustained through the sacraments.
“We give thanks that Jesus brought him to new life in baptism, nourished him with the Eucharist and healed him in the confessional,” Father Scalia said in his homily. “God blessed Dad with a deep Catholic faith, the conviction that Christ’s presence and power continue in the world today through his body, the church.”
Speaking of his father’s devotion to his Catholic faith, Father Scalia said, “He loved the clarity and coherence of the church’s teachings. He treasured the church’s ceremonies, especially the beauty of her ancient worship. He trusted the power of her sacraments as the means of salvation, as Christ working within him for his salvation.”
Father Scalia, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, is episcopal vicar for clergy for the diocese, where the late justice lived with his family.
The elder Scalia died Feb. 13 of natural causes while in Texas for a hunting trip. He was 79. He is survived by his wife, Maureen, and by the couple’s nine children and 36 grandchildren.
The family then sat in a front section as the casket was placed at the base of the steps leading to the main altar.
At the Mass were the eight remaining members of the U.S. Supreme Court: Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. and Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Retired Justices John Paul Stevens and David H. Souter also were present.
Other dignitaries in attendance included: Vice President Joe Biden; U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch; former Vice President Dick Cheney; former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; and Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Cruz, currently a candidate for president, once served as a Supreme Court clerk.
Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, welcomed Justice Scalia’s family members and friends and the dignitaries to the Mass and acknowledged the presence of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde.
Other Catholic leaders at the Mass included Auxiliary Bishop Richard B. Higgins of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; Msgr. Walter R. Rossi, rector of the national shrine; and John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America. Nearly 100 priests concelebrated the Mass and were joined by about 36 deacons. The congregation of 3,300 people included Catholic laypeople and women and men religious, as well as guests of many different faiths.
Leonard Leo, a friend of Justice Scalia who is executive vice president of the Federalist Society, read the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, which opened with, “The souls of the just are in the hands of God.” Justice Thomas read the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, and Deacon Colin Davis, of the Diocese of Arlington, read the Gospel reading from St. Matthew.
The liturgy also reflected Scalia’s sense of humor, with both Cardinal Wuerl and Father Scalia joking about the family’s desire “for a simple parish family Mass” for the justice’s funeral, which ended up being held in the largest Catholic church in North America to accommodate the number of mourners.
Since his death, Father Scalia said in his homily, the justice had been praised by many for his intellect, his writings and speeches. “But more important to us and to him was that he was Dad. He was the father God gave us for the great adventure of family life,” Father Scalia said. “Sure, he forgot our names at times or mixed them up, but there were nine of us.”
On a serious note, he added, “He loved us, and sought to show that love, and sought to share the blessing of the faith he treasured.”
The priest also expressed thanks for his parents’ marriage, noting that “Jesus bestowed upon him 55 years of marriage to the woman he loved, a woman who could match him at every step and even hold him accountable.”
“God blessed Dad, as is well known, with a love for his country,” Father Scalia said. “He knew well what a close-run thing the founding of our nation was. And he saw in that founding, as did the founders themselves, a blessing. A blessing quickly lost when faith is banned from the public square, or when we refuse to bring it there.”
The priest said Scalia “understood that there is no conflict between loving God and loving one’s country, between one’s faith and one’s public service. Dad understood that the deeper he went in his Catholic faith, the better a citizen and a public servant he became.”
Later during the prayer of commendation, Father Scalia, prayed that God would grant the justice a merciful judgment.
As the congregation sang, “O God Beyond All Praising,” Scalia’s casket was carried down the shrine’’s center aisle, accompanied as he had been in life by his family, and then they left for his private burial ceremony.
Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.
WASHINGTON — The general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have asked the court for relief from being forced to comply with the federal contraceptive mandate.
The brief was filed Jan. 8 in the Zubik v. Burwell case, which the court will hear this year. The case will determine whether the Little Sisters of the Poor and other ministries can be forced to comply with the contraceptive mandate of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Under the Affordable Care Act, all health insurance plans are required to provide coverage for birth control drugs and procedures. Churches themselves and other institutions that primarily employ and serve members of the churches are exempt.
Nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies are not exempt, but the federal Department of Health and Human Services created what it calls an “accommodation” under which such organizations morally opposed to the coverage may file a particular form or notify HHS that they will not provide it.
The contraceptive coverage is then provided to those organizations’ employees, but through third parties, and with no cost or further involvement to the employer. Entities that refuse to comply with the mandate are subject to significant fines.
The Little Sisters of the Poor and other organizations that sued say that the acts of filling out the form or notifying HHS are a substantial burden on their religious rights because the steps implicate them in the ultimate provision of contraceptives. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed in a July 14 ruling, saying the sisters were not substantially burdened by procedures set out by the federal government by which they could avoid the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance.
The USCCB brief argues that the contraceptive mandate not only damages religious freedom, but society as a whole.
“If the petitioners abide by their religious beliefs, they face the loss of the ability to sponsor health coverage for their employees and millions of dollars in fines, threatening financial ruin. No one benefits from such an outcome, not the organizations, their donors, their clients, or their employees,” the brief said.
The brief also highlighted the major contributions made by Catholic and other religious charities and social services by assisting millions of people every year. Seven other Catholic and non-Catholic organizations signed onto the USCCB brief: Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities; Catholic Relief Services; Family Research Council; Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance; The Cardinal Newman Society; Thomas More Society; and World Vision.
Other amicus briefs were filed by leaders from other faiths and members of Congress.
“We have great admiration for the Little Sisters who are standing up not just for themselves and the elderly poor they serve, but for the rights of all people of faith, including Jews,” said Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin in a statement. “Their courage is an example to all of us,” added the rabbi, a member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.
Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Little Sisters, based in Denver, said the sisters are “overjoyed and deeply grateful for the diverse outpouring of support we have received from such a variety of people and groups.”
Sister Loraine Marie and Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor, have been invited by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisconsin, to attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Jan. 12.
WASHINGTON — Two pharmacists and a family-owned pharmacy have asked the Supreme Court to review a Washington state law that would force pharmacists to sell abortion-inducing contraceptive drugs.
The pharmacists, Margo Thelen and Rhonda Mesler, and the Stormans family have been battling the issue in court since 2007, at first blocking the law’s implementation the day before it was scheduled to go into effect.
They lost in July when a three-judge panel of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2012 court victory that would have permitted them to refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception drugs such as Plan B and ella, and to refer customers to other pharmacies that would fill them.
At the time, the pharmacists said they would appeal the ruling to the full 9th Circuit. But the request before the high court, submitted Jan. 4, asked the justices to look at the case.
“The Ninth Circuit reversed, ignoring the district court’s extensive factual findings and adopting an exceptionally narrow interpretation of the free exercise clause. It held that any law can satisfy the free exercise clause, no matter how clearly it targets religious conduct in practice, as long as it might also be applied to nonreligious conduct in theory,” said the petition.
It added, “For over 40 years, Congress and all 50 states have protected the right of pharmacists, doctors, nurses and other health professionals to step aside when asked to participate in what they consider to be an abortion. The (federal appellate court) decision … authorizes a dangerous intrusion on this right, which can only exacerbate intense cultural conflict over these issues.”
“It is absurd to force a pharmacy to sell drugs against their conscience when there are over 30 pharmacies within five miles that already sell the exact same drugs,” said a Jan. 4 statement by Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the pharmacists. “This law does nothing but punish people of faith.”
The 9th Circuit panel rejected the free exercise claim lodged by the plaintiffs, as well as claims on equal protection and due process, the latter of which had been rejected by the lower court but was considered anew by the appellate court. The judges held that the rules, promulgated by the Washington Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission, were neutral on their face.
Thelen and Mesler work at a Ralph’s Thriftway grocery store in Washington state. It is owned by the Stormans family, which also owns the pharmacy located inside.
“A retail pharmacy like Ralph’s typically stocks about 15 percent of available drugs,” said the petition to the Supreme Court. “Decisions about which drugs to stock are based on a variety of factors, such as demand for a drug, cost of a drug, whether a drug is sold only in bulk, shelf space, shelf life, manufacturer or supplier restrictions, insurance requirements and reimbursement rates, administrative costs, monitoring or training costs and competitors’ practices,” it added.
“When a customer requests a drug that a pharmacy does not stock, standard practice is to refer the customer to another pharmacy. Pharmacies do this many times daily,” the filing said. “Even when a drug is in stock, pharmacies routinely refer customers elsewhere for a variety of reasons — such as when a prescription requires extra time (like simple compounding or unit dosing), or when a customer offers a form of payment that the pharmacy does not accept. The state has stipulated that referral is standard practice and is often the most effective way to serve a customer.”
But in the pharmacists’ case, it added, they are “Christians who believe that life is sacred from the moment of conception. Because of their religious beliefs, petitioners cannot stock or dispense the morning-after or week-after pills — collectively, ‘Plan B’ — which the FDA has recognized can prevent implantation of an embryo. … Dispensing these drugs would make them guilty of destroying human life.”
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court justices said Nov. 6 they will hear seven pending appeals in lawsuits brought by several Catholic and other faith-based entities against the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.
The court will hear appeals from groups in Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and the District of Columbia.
Among the plaintiffs are the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, the Pittsburgh and Erie dioceses, Priests for Life, Southern Nazarene University and Texas Baptist University.
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, most employers, including religious ones, are required to cover employees’ artificial birth control, sterilization and abortifacients, even if employers are morally opposed to such coverage.
In all the cases to be argued before the high court in March, appellate courts in various jurisdictions sided with the Obama administration. The rulings said the religious entities’ freedom of religion was not burdened by having to comply with the mandate as they have argued, because the federal government has in place an accommodation for a third party to provide the contested coverage.
But the religious groups object to that notification, saying they still would be complicit in supporting practices they oppose. While their appeals worked their way to the high court, the government has not been able to force the groups to comply with the mandate or face daily fines for noncompliance.
The Archdiocese of Washington said it “is heartened to learn that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the D.C. Circuit’s flawed ruling in our challenge to the HHS (Health and Human Services) mandate, together with the other challenges pending before the court.”
“A particular concern for the archdiocese is the government’s treatment of Catholic educational and charitable ministries as if they are somehow less religious than houses of worship, and therefore less deserving of the right to operate in accord with the church’s teachings,” it said in a statement. “The archdiocese is hopeful that the court will vindicate our religious freedom, and the freedom of Catholic ministries also seeking to practice their faith freely, as guaranteed under the law.
Only those religious employers that meet narrow criteria set by the Obama administration are exempt from the mandate. Houses of worship are exempt, for example, but most Catholic and other religious employers are not.
Nonexempt religious employers can opt out of providing the coverage using what the administration calls an accommodation, or “work around.” They must notify Health and Human Services in writing of their religious objections. Then HHS or the Department of Labor government in turn tells insurers and third-party administrators that they must cover the services at no charge to employees.
In an afternoon telephone news conference, a spokesman for the Becket Fund, whose lawyers represent the Little Sisters of the Poor, said the Obama administration had “strenuously argued” that the high court not take the Little Sisters of the Poor case.
The government “argued hard and the court granted it anyway,” said Mark Rienzi, Becket’s senior counsel. “So the government will have to explain why they fought hard to make the Little Sisters cover contraceptives.”
Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, was quoted as saying the Obama administration is certain “the policy that we have in place balances the need for millions of Americans to have access to birth control while also protecting the right of religious freedom that is protected in our Constitution.”
Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik in a statement said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act “goes to the very heart of our concerns.” The 1993 law was enacted “to respect the teachings of all religious bodies and the practices of individual believers,” he noted.
“The insurance mandate, which is one small provision of the Affordable Care Act, would require us to facilitate access to contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients contrary to our teaching,” he said.
Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie, Pennsylvania, in his statement said he was pleased his diocese and the others “will have our day in court.”
“Religious liberty protects the right of each of us to pursue the truth, to embrace it, and to shape our lives around it — all without government interference,” Bishop Persico said. “We are hopeful the court will uphold religious liberty, one of the essential pillars upon which our country has thrived for centuries.”
In its petition to the court, written by U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verilli Jr., the government said that houses of worship are different than church organizations. Churches themselves should be exempt because their employees are likely to share their employers’ religious beliefs, the government argued, while faith-based universities, charities and other organizations have more employees who do not share the beliefs of their employers and so the mandate should be enforced for those employers.
Robert Muise of the American Freedom Law Center, which represents the Priests for Life, called it “great news” that organization’s appeal will be heard along with the others.
On Nov. 9, Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, announced a special prayer campaign for the Supreme Court to reverse the HHS mandate. The organization’s prayer website, PrayerCampaign.org, has a link to special prayers written for the campaign.
“Victory for us and the other six cases means victory for every believer,” Father Pavone said in a statement. “It is not the government that decides what does or does not contradict our faith and our conscience. It is the believer, in union with his or her church, who determines that. This is the essence of religious freedom.”
The cases the court accepted are: Zubik v. Burwell; Priests for Life v. Department of HHS; Roman Catholic Archbishop v. Burwell; Texas Baptist University v. Burwell; Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell; Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell; and Geneva College v. Burwell. The court is expected to refer to the cases collectively as Zubik v. Burwell. Sylvia Mathews Burwell is the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Catholic News Service
An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2010 added acts of violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to the list of federal hate crimes.
President Barack Obama signed it into law on Oct. 28, 2009. It was the first major piece of federal legislation in support of the rights of homosexuals and, when passed, was compared with the passage of 1960s civil rights legislation that empowered countless African-Americans.
This law acknowledged the dignity of people regardless of their sexual orientation and, as such, was a development to be welcomed by anyone committed to the principles of justice and human dignity.
News of the passage of that legislation in 2009 triggered expressions of hope from gay-rights activists that same-sex marriage would, sooner rather than later, be legally permissible anywhere in the United States. That day arrived with a decision of the Supreme Court on June 26, 2015.
Legal recognition of same-sex unions, and calling those unions “marriage,” was promoted as an anti-discrimination issue, but it consistently drew opposition from the Catholic community that sees not discrimination but defense of marriage — a sacramental union between a man and a woman — as the issue.
In the Catholic understanding, bride (female) and groom (male) confer that sacrament on one another; the priest or deacon is simply the official witness. There is no room for a same-sex union in the Catholic understanding of marriage. Defending this position is now, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, an enormous challenge for the church.
Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage will be more persuasive to the extent that it is explained by spokespeople who are unambiguous in their support of protection by the state of the rights of homosexuals in the matter of hate crimes, workplace discrimination, military service and similar situations.
The Catholic commitment to justice should also support partners in a same-sex union having, as a spouse would have and as the Supreme Court has now mandated, inheritance rights and access to a partner’s hospital bedside in times of illness.
Permitting partners in a same-sex union to have adoption rights is another matter. Here, Catholic opposition should be grounded in sound theory and solid data, evidence that the arrangement would not be good for children. It should rest on discretionary, not discriminatory, grounds and in no way impugn the dignity of any homosexual person.
The church has the ongoing challenge of defending its distinction between homosexual orientation (morally neutral) and homosexual behavior (morally impermissible). Pastoral explanation of this distinction remains a challenge for the church, which is not to say that it cannot be met.
Marriage, in the eyes of the church, is a sacrament. If the separation of church and state means anything, it certainly means that the state is not free to decide what is and what is not a sacrament, even though the state and other civic jurisdictions do, without objection from the church, issue what are called marriage licenses.
Now that the state has decided to approve and protect same-sex unions, the church can insist that the state has no right to call these unions “marriage,” but it is more difficult now than ever to make that case.
The long-standing acceptance of marriage licenses issued by the state poses a difficulty for the church in making that argument.
Without yielding any moral ground, however, the church could, if necessary, accept a two-tier system, common in other countries, of having Catholics appear before a civil authority in a civil ceremony to be followed by a church ceremony where the sacrament is conferred.
Other religions may, if they wish, welcome partners in a civilly recognized same-sex union to a subsequent religious ceremony of commitment.
Some denominations will surely do that. The Catholic Church will not. Its refusal to do so must be respected as an expression of commitment to sacramental marriage, not a condemnation of those with other views.
Jesuit Father Byron is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Email: email@example.com.