The Cardinal Newman Society and 126 Catholic and other Christian organizations joined together in a letter delivered today to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, urging the Obama administration to reconsider its attempt to redefine religious activity according to a “two-class scheme” that would violate religious liberty.
The letter was organized by the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance
(IRFA), a DC-area coalition with an ecumenical membership that defends the rights of religious organizations engaged in education, social services, medical care and other activities.
The Cardinal Newman Society is an IRFA member and recruited the leaders of several faithful Catholic colleges and universities to join the letter, including the following signers:
Patrick J. Reilly, President, The Cardinal Newman Society
Sister Mary Sarah, O.P., President, Aquinas College
Dr. William K. Thierfelder, President, Belmont Abbey College
Dr. Marianne Evans Mount, President, Catholic Distance University
Donna F. Bethell, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Christendom College
Dr. George A. Harne, President, The College of Saint Mary Magdalen
Fr. Bernard F. O’Connor, OSFS, President, DeSales University
Dr. Derry Connolly, President, John Paul the Great Catholic University
Dr. Thomas H. Powell, President, Mount St. Mary’s University
Dr. D. Gregory Main, President, St. Gregory’s University
Other prominent organizations represented in the letter include the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, National Association of Evangelicals, Association of Christian Schools International, American Center for Law and Justice, and World Vision.
The letter dated June 11 notes that, while signers may not share the Catholic Church’s views about contraception and even abortion, they are united in their opposition to the HHS contraceptive mandate and the Obama administration’s attempt to redefine and regulate religious organizations:
Dear Secretary Sebelius:
As leaders and supporters of faith-based service organizations, we write to express our grave concern about the two-class concept of religious organizations that has been created by your department and other federal agencies in connection with the contraceptives mandate of the health insurance regulations for preventive services for women.
Our organizations, and we ourselves, do not all share the same view of the moral acceptability of the contraceptive drugs and services that comprise the contraceptives mandate. We have varied views on the adequacy of the “accommodation” that the administration has promised for religious organizations with deep objections to the contraceptives mandate but that are not eligible for the narrow religious employer exemption. Our organizations are involved in different areas of service. We belong to different faiths.
But we are united in opposition to the creation in federal law of two classes of religious organizations: churches—considered sufficiently focused inwardly to merit an exemption and thus full protection from the mandate; and faith-based service organizations—outwardly oriented and given a lesser degree of protection. It is this two-class system that the administration has embedded in federal law via the February 15, 2012, publication of the final rules providing for an exemption from the mandate for a narrowly defined set of “religious employers” and the related administration publications and statements about a different “accommodation” for non-exempt religious organizations.
And yet both worship-oriented and service-oriented religious organizations are authentically and equally religious organizations. To use Christian terms, we owe God wholehearted and pure worship, to be sure, and yet we know also that “pure religion” is “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). We deny that it is within the jurisdiction of the federal government to define, in place of religious communities, what constitutes true religion and authentic ministry.
This two-class scheme protects those religious organizations focused on activities directed inward to a worship community while offering little religious freedom protection to the many religious organizations that engage in service directed outward. The scheme honors acts of worship while burdening those whose faith leads them to service in our common life. Among its many troublesome aspects, the scheme moves us further toward an unconstitutional, unhistorical, and unhealthy naked public square.
The administration has said that the narrow definition of “religious employer” is not intended to be a precedent in federal law and that the two-class system is not meant to disparage the mission or motivation of non-exempt religious organizations. Yet these are only intentions, whereas the narrow definition of religious employer and the narrow scope of the exemption have been inserted, despite widespread protest, into actual federal law. We note, as well, that the administration itself has justified the narrow exemption by its use in the insurance rules of several states. The presence of the narrow exemption in federal regulations can only make it more likely to be used in additional federal policies, notwithstanding any current promises.
Secretary Sebelius, we believe that there is one adequate remedy: eliminate the two-class scheme of religious organization in the preventive services regulations. Extend to faith-based service organizations the same exemption that the regulations currently limit to churches. This would bring the preventive services regulations into line with the long-standing, respected, and court-tested provisions of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act [§§702, 703(e)] which provide a specific employment exemption for every kind of religious organization, whether they be defined as “a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society.”
Secretary Sebelius, please restore the federal government’s full respect for faith-based educational, social-service, and health organizations as authentic vehicles for religious service.
Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.