160-Plus Bishops Speak Out Against HHS Mandate

More USCCB statements and USA Today editorial add to action alerts and letters from Catholic shepherds to counter administration's violation of Church beliefs and conscience rights. Updated from Feb. 6.

The Obama administration has misled the public about the meaning of its new contraception coverage requirement, according to a fact sheet released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Health and Human Services’ new mandate “forces religious insurers to write policies that violate their beliefs, forces religious employers and schools to sponsor and subsidize coverage that violates their beliefs, and forces religious employees and students to purchase coverage that violates their beliefs,” the conference declared on Feb. 6.

The bishops’ clarification came less than a week after an Obama administration official defended the mandate, which requires most employers and many religious institutions to cover contraception and sterilization in their health plans, in a Feb. 1 White House blog post.

Several points in the bishops’ statement, entitled “Six Things Everyone Should Know About the HHS Mandate,” responded directly to points made by Cecilia Muñoz of the White House Domestic Policy Council in her online statement on “Health Reform, Preventive Services and Religious Institutions.”

In her defense of the federal rule, finalized Jan. 20, over objections by Catholics and other groups, the administration’s domestic-policy council claimed that “churches are exempt from the new rules.”

She also denied that the policy would cover abortion-causing drugs and cited statistics from the Guttmacher Institute to support the claim that “98% of Catholic women have used contraception.”

These claims, according to the U.S. bishops, are either false or irrelevant.

“The mandate does not exempt Catholic charities, schools, universities or hospitals,” they explained. “These institutions are vital to the mission of the Church, but HHS does not deem them ‘religious employers’ worthy of conscience protection.”

Health and Human Services will allow certain religious ministries to opt out of the mandate, but only if they primarily employ and serve members of their own faith for the purpose of inculcating religious values.

Other faith-based institutions, the bishops argued, would lose their religious freedom “precisely because their purpose is to serve the common good of society” by serving people of all beliefs.

The White House official also claimed that “drugs that cause abortion are not covered by this policy.”

The bishops said this statement is false.

“By including all drugs approved by the FDA for use as contraceptives, the HHS mandate includes drugs that can induce abortion, such as ‘Ella,’ a close cousin of the abortion pill RU-486,” they maintained.

The White House has sought to focus attention on the freedom of individuals, stating that “no one will be forced to buy or use contraception” under the rule.

In response to this assertion of private choice, the bishops’ conference reminded the public that the mandate forces institutions “to pay for things they consider immoral,” since they must “sponsor and subsidize coverage” of contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.

The U.S. bishops also responded directly to the White House’s claim that 28 U.S. states already require insurance companies to cover contraception.

Health and Human Services’ new mandate, they pointed out, “is much stricter than existing state mandates,” because its exemption, which was allegedly drafted by the ACLU, has previously been implemented in only three states.

“Even without a religious exemption, religious employers can already avoid the contraceptive mandates in 28 states by self-insuring their prescription-drug coverage, dropping that coverage altogether, or opting for regulation under a federal law that pre-empts state law,” the bishops noted.

But the new federal mandate “closes off all these avenues of relief.”

Catholics and non-Catholics of various political stripes have already spoken out against the mandate, adding their voices to those of more than 160 U.S. bishops.

In correspondence made public on Feb. 6, Pepperdine University professor Doug Kmiec, a prominent backer and former appointee of the administration, rebuked the president, saying he may withdraw his endorsement in 2012 over the contraception-coverage mandate.

In other news, the editorial board of USA Today disagreed with the Obama administration’s claim that its recent contraception mandate respects the religious freedom of groups who will be forced to comply with it.

The board said that justifications offered by Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “sidestep the central issue” of religious freedom.

Sebelius penned a Feb. 5 article in USA Today arguing that the narrow religious exemption included in the recent contraception mandate is an attempt to “strike the right balance” between respecting religious beliefs and providing “preventive health services.”

USA Today ran an accompanying editorial article arguing that the Obama administration has “failed” to strike this balance and has instead devised a policy that is “contrary to both Catholic doctrine and constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.”

In her article, Sebelius defended free coverage of “preventive services” as “one of the key benefits of the 2010 health-care law.”

She argued that “virtually all American women use contraception at some point in their lives” and that contraception has health benefits but is often prohibitively expensive.

USA Today responded in its editorial that good medical intentions “are not sufficient grounds to override religious freedom.”

It noted that the government is free to, and in fact, already does, promote contraception in other ways that do not coerce religious organizations to violate their teachings.

Sebelius said that the administration recognized that “many religious organizations have deeply held beliefs” opposing the requirements of the mandate and has provided an exemption for “religious organizations that primarily employ people of their own faith.”

The editorial acknowledged that an exemption exists for many “churches and other houses of worship,” but observed that this exemption does not extend to “organizations that employ or serve large numbers of people of different faiths,” which is a defining element “of many Catholic colleges, hospitals and charities.”

Sebelius also justified the mandate by arguing that 28 states already “require contraception to be covered by insurance” and eight of these states do not allow for a religious exemption.

The editorial responded by pointing out that the majority of these states have even “broader exemptions” than that offered by the federal mandate, and several others that do not have an explicit exemption still provide ways for organizations with moral objections to “get around the mandate.”

“The First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom deserves more weight than the administration allowed,” the editorial said.

It added that individuals freely choose employers and should therefore be able to choose to work for an institution that does not offer free contraception coverage.

The board argued that the government “should never try to force a religiously affiliated institution to violate a central tenet of its faith.”

USA Today editors urged the Obama administration to “reopen discussion with those affected” negatively by the mandate and seek a compromise that will “widen the exemption in a suitable way.”

Yet another important update on Feb. 6:

The U.S. bishops are united in their resolve not to comply with the HHS mandate requiring Catholic organizations to provide insurance coverage for contraception and sterilization, according to Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind.

“We cannot and we will not comply with this unjust federal order. We cannot and we will not accept this egregious affront to our religious liberty,” Bishop Rhoades said in a Feb. 2 statement to be read at all parishes in the diocese.

The mandate’s implications are “grave,” he added. It negatively impacts the Catholic Church and “strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty.”

The Department of Health and Human Services’ new rule requires almost all employers to provide insurance plans that cover sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacient drugs. Its religious exemption will not cover most Catholic institutions like health systems, universities and charities.

“In the coming months, we must focus our energies on fighting this unjust mandate and defending our religious liberty,” Bishop Rhoades said. “I exhort all men and women of good will to be engaged on this issue.”

“We must hold firm and be courageous in this matter. We must be united in our defense of the religious liberty granted us by God and protected in our nation’s Constitution.”

The bishop previously criticized the mandate at a Jan. 26 press conference.

“We will not comply with this. We will not violate our conscience,” he said. “The U.S. bishops are united in this, and I think that this refusal to exempt religious institutions that serve the common good, which we are doing, is really an unprecedented decision.”

The rule is unprecedented in that it attempts to force religious institutions, other institutions and individuals to do things Catholics consider immoral and sinful, he added.

“We made it very clear to the administration we can’t violate our conscience, (but) that didn’t seem to matter to them,” the bishop said.

Albert Gutierrez, president and CEO of Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, said at the same press Jan. 26 conference that both his hospital and the Catholic Health Association are “disappointed” that the definition of religious employer was not broadened by the HHS.

“This was a missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection,” Gutierrez said.

Bishop Rhoades urged Catholics to “pray hard” and to ask political candidates about their position on religious liberty in general and conscience protection specifically.

His Feb. 2 letter exhorted Catholics to commit themselves to prayer and sacrifice for truth, justice and the restoration of religious liberty.

He recommended Catholics and others visit the U.S. bishops’ website to learn about the mandate and how to support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which would reverse it.

More than 150 U.S. bishops have spoken against the mandate.

Feb. 1 update below.

On Feb. 1, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia issued an action alert on the Health and Human Services mandate, joining more than 100 other bishops in voicing objection to violation of Catholic conscience in health care.

“Bishops and lay Catholic leaders across the United States have made it clear that we cannot comply with this unjust law without compromising our convictions and undermining the Catholic identity of many of our service ministries,” he wrote. “This is not just another important issue among the many we need to be concerned about. This ruling is different. This ruling interferes with the basic right of Catholic citizens to organize and work for the common good as Catholics in the public square.”

Jan. 31 story below.
Catholics may have to suffer for the integrity of their institutions, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb., announced in his response to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

“We cannot and will not comply with this unjust decree. Like the martyrs of old, we must be prepared to accept suffering, which could include heavy fines and imprisonment,” Bishop Bruskewitz wrote in a letter he ordered to be read at every Sunday Mass in his diocese on Jan. 29.

“Our American religious liberty is in grave jeopardy,” he warned, describing the impact of new rules that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has instituted as part of federal health-care reform.

Those rules, confirmed as final on Jan. 20, will require most religious employers to cover contraception and sterilization, including some abortion-causing drugs, in new health-care plans. Sebelius has given religious groups an extra year to comply, but rejected calls for a broader exemption clause.

“This means that all of our Catholic schools, hospitals, social-service agencies and the like will be forced to participate in evil,” Bishop Bruskewitz explained.

The bishop recalled that the Church “has pleaded with President Obama to rescind this edict, but all pleas have been met with scorn and have fallen on deaf ears.”

He described Secretary Sebelius as a “bitter fallen-away Catholic” and called her one-year deadline extension for non-exempt religious employers “an act of mockery” because, he noted, “during that year, they must ‘refer’ people to the insurance that covers wicked deeds.”

A proposed U.S. Senate bill, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, would amend the health-care law to let employers opt out of covering some services. Bishop Bruskewitz urged Catholics to call their elected representatives in support of the bill and to protest the “outrage” of the contraception mandate.

Meanwhile, he said, the faithful should “pray and do penance that this matter may be resolved.”

The bishop of Lincoln was one of a large number of U.S. Church leaders voicing alarm over the weekend in letters distributed to parishes and read at Mass regarding the Health and Human Services order.

In the Diocese of Phoenix, Catholics heard a message from Bishop Thomas Olmsted, who declared that people of faith would not be “made second-class citizens” and “stripped of their God-given rights.”

In Marquette, Mich., Bishop Alexander Sample said that if the rule takes effect, “we Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences or to drop health coverage for our employees and suffer the penalties for doing so.”

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond stressed the need for action in his letter to the faithful over the weekend, as he decried the “unprecedented attack on religious liberty” by which the state was “violating our rights to make choices based on our morals and Church teaching.”

Archbishop Aymond of New Orleans hopes that continued discussions between the Catholic Church and the White House can break the current deadlock over the contraception mandate.

“I do not think this a time when you just declare war or pick up your marbles and go home. We have to sit at the table and come up with some options, conversations and dialogue,” he told EWTN News on Jan. 27.

“Hopefully, through that, we can come to some better understanding, and the administration of our government can come to some better understanding. But we must engage in this and be very careful we do so with thought, prayer and, obviously, with respect.”

Archbishop Aymond says that the Catholic Church cannot and will not comprise on such matters.

“I think it’s very important that if we are to follow our conscience and the teachings of the Church we cannot roll over and play dead,” he said.

This past Sunday, all the parishes in the New Orleans archdiocese heard a letter read from Archbishop Aymond that explained the Church’s position.

“We are as the prophets of old in the Old Testament, or as Jesus Christ himself, and all those people over our 2,000-year tradition that have stood for, and have been very vocal about, the truth.

“I think we must do that too.”

Archbishop Aymond spoke to EWTN News during a Jan. 22–Feb. 1 ad limina visit to Rome, where he and 21 other bishops from several southern U.S. states briefed the Pope and various Vatican departments on the state of the Church in their region.

He said that the issue of religious freedom in the United States was “brought up either directly or indirectly in almost every one of our meetings.”

The general consensus was that the present situation is “very tragic and very disappointing,” especially because the idea “that someone from outside can tell us what is moral and what is not and how we should form our conscience” is alien to the traditions of the United States.

The bishops also made sure they raised the issue at a Jan. 23 meeting with staff from the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

“I think what is very interesting is that in the United States we make many exceptions and alterations for many religious groups. And so I find this very confusing why they’ve come out with such strength in this circumstance,” he said.

Ultimately, Archbishop Aymond feels that Catholics have to become better at explaining what the Church teaches when talking to others.

“How do we present these things not just as ‘the teachings of the Church?’” was the question one bishop asked Pope Benedict in their Jan. 27 meeting.

Archbishop Aymond thinks that the answer lies with Catholics “knowing our faith and knowing it well.” There also has to be a “respectfulness and a courtesy” when entering into conversation with other people, he said.

“I think one of the characteristics of people in general is that if other people don’t agree with us we can easily write them off and just say, ‘You’re different.’”

By “remaining in conversation” and “sharing our faith,” however, Catholics have “a real opportunity for evangelization.”

In the short term, Archbishop Aymond would like all American Catholics to pray and be “in solidarity” with each other as the Church seeks to address the issue of the contraception mandate with the Obama administration.

We cannot sit back and just allow people to take our liberty away from us, he said.

Pope Benedict XVI issued his own warning to the U.S. Church just before Health and Human Services finalized the mandate.

In remarks to bishops of the mid-Atlantic states on Jan. 19, the Pope said all U.S. Catholics must “realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.”

The U.S. Catholic bishops’ chairman for religious liberty says the Obama administration’s contraception mandate tramples “the mandate of Jesus Christ” by requiring Catholic employers to choose between violating their consciences and denying services to non-Catholics.

Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who chairs the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, denounced the mandate in a Jan. 27 guest article in The Washington Post.

Bishop Lori warned of the “horrific” and “alarming” consequences that would come from forcing Catholic organizations to limit their services to members of their own faith in order to protect their religious liberty.

“In short, the administration is dictating that Catholic institutions and individual employers violate what America has always considered inviolable: their religious liberty and freedom of conscience,” he said.

Bishop Lori explained that, by their nature, Catholic institutions follow their founder, Jesus Christ, by serving people “based on need, not creed.”

He noted that Catholic school educators were honored for their contributions to America at a Jan. 25 White House ceremony. In part, he said, these educators were able to make a difference because their schools are open to students of all faiths or no faith at all.

Catholic schools in the United States teach more than 300,000 non-Catholic students, he said, including up to 90% of students in inner-city Catholic schools and over 40% of students in Catholic colleges and universities around the country.

The bishop also pointed out that Catholic hospitals serve one out of six people who seek hospital care annually.

“Not all of them are Catholic, and being a Catholic has never been a requirement to receive healing care,” he said.

Bishop Lori also pointed out that Catholic Charities served the needs of more than 10 million people in America last year without distinguishing between Catholics and non-Catholics.

In order to continue their ministry without violating the tenets of their faith, these Catholic organizations and others across the country may be forced “not to feed or clothe, heal or educate practically anyone of another faith or creed,” he said. 

To force this decision would be detrimental to the common good and particularly to the poor and needy of society, he warned.

Bishop Lori finished by saying that forcing Catholic organizations to choose between following Obama’s mandate and Jesus’ mandate “strikes at the very heart of the right to religious liberty on which our country was founded.”

Jan. 27 story below.

Bishop James Conley of Denver is calling the Obama administration’s contraception and sterilization mandate “a death knell for religious liberty in the United States.”

“The bell is tolling for religious liberty in America. All of us should listen well,” Bishop Conley said in a Jan. 25 column.

Although religious leaders of many different faiths raised concerns when the plan was first proposed, their voices “fell on deaf ears” Bishop Conley said.

“Let’s be clear,” Bishop Conley wrote, “this plan does nothing to respect religious freedom.”

Rather than using this year to “adapt,” Bishop Conley said that Catholics must unify and fight the “flagrant disregard” for the constitutional protection of the First Amendment.

Catholics who believe that the conscience clause in the proposed health-care plan respects Catholic teaching and religious freedom must “face the facts” Bishop Conley said.

“Compromising with pro-choice, pro-contraceptive political agendas can have dangerous consequences.”

He warned that if the proposed health-care plan goes into effect unchanged, then the Catholic Church will no longer have legal protection for the unhindered expression of religion.

“The freedom to practice our religious faith is in jeopardy.”

The bishop said that all Catholics need to support the passage of the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” that is currently before Congress. Christians, he said, should also “join us by praying for a return to justice” and begin contacting their representatives.

Every Christian “has an interest in defending liberty,” Bishop Conley said.  “Now is the time. The bell tolls for us all.

Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., has also asked parishes, schools, hospitals and religious houses to insert the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel into the intercessions at Sunday Mass to pray for Catholics’ freedom.

“It is God’s invincible archangel who commands the heavenly host, and it is the enemies of God who will ultimately be defeated,” the bishop said in a Jan. 24 letter to the Catholics of his diocese.

The prayer should take place in the general intercessions before the concluding prayer, Bishop Jenky said. He asked that the intention of the prayer be announced as “for the freedom of the Catholic Church in America.”

The St. Michael prayer was authored by Pope Leo XIII and was once commonly said in U.S. Catholic parishes as part of a petition for the freedom of Soviet Russia.

He said it is his duty to summon the local Church into “spiritual and temporal combat in defense of Catholic Christianity.”

“If these regulations are put into effect, they could close down every Catholic school, hospital and the other public ministries of our Church, which is perhaps their underlying intention,” Bishop Jenky said. “What is perfectly clear is that this is a bigoted and blanket attack on the First Amendment rights of every Catholic believer.”

Bishop Jenky stated that the president does not have the authority under the U.S. Constitution to “require our cooperation with what we consider to be intrinsic evil and mortal sin.”

“I am honestly horrified that the nation I have always loved has come to this hateful and radical step in religious intolerance.”

The bishop pledged that the Church will never abandon its commitment to the gospel of life and called on the faithful to “vigorously” oppose what he called an “unprecedented governmental assault upon the moral convictions of our faith.”

Bishop Jenky also struck an encouraging note.

“Have faith! Have courage! Fight boldly for what you believe!” he said. “I strongly urge you not to be intimidated by extremist politicians or the malice of the cultural secularists arrayed against us.”

Invoking the First Letter of John, he said Catholics should always remember that “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

The new federal contraception mandate is “like a slap in the face” that says “To hell with you” to Catholics and religious freedom, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said.

“This is government by fiat that attacks the rights of everyone, not only Catholics; not only people of all religion. At no other time in memory or history has there been such a governmental intrusion on freedom, not only with regard to religion, but even across the board with all citizens,” Bishop Zubik wrote in the Jan. 27 edition of the Pittsburgh Catholic.

“Kathleen Sebelius (Health and Human Services Secretary) and, through her, the Obama administration, have said, ‘To hell with you’ to the Catholic faithful of the United States,” he charged, adding that the administration has damned Catholics’ religious beliefs, religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

The mandate’s religious exemption is narrow and will not “practically speaking” apply to many Catholic health systems, educational institutions, charities and other organizations, the bishop said. It will apply in “virtually every instance where the Catholic Church serves as an employer.”

Bishop Zubik said the mandate treats pregnancy as a disease and “forces every employer to subsidize an ideology or pay a penalty while searching for alternatives to health-care coverage.” It also undermines health-care reform by “inextricably linking it to the zealotry of pro-abortion bureaucrats.”

He said the mandate tells Catholics “not only to violate our beliefs, but to pay directly for that violation,” as well as to “subsidize the imposition of a contraceptive and abortion culture on every person in the United States.”

The bishop asked Catholics to write to President Obama, Secretary Sebelius, their senators and members of Congress.

“This mandate can be changed by congressional pressure. The only way that action will happen is if you and I take action,” Bishop Zubik said.

“Let them know that you and I will not allow ourselves to be pushed around (or worse yet) be dismissed because of our Catholic faith.”

Jan. 25 article below.
Mandatory insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacient drugs is an “attack” on religious freedom that Catholics must oppose, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis said.

“The Church cannot, and will not, be silent in the face of this grave threat to religious liberty and the sanctity of human life,” Archbishop Carlson said in his Jan. 23 column for the St. Louis Review.

“We bishops will speak out boldly, at every opportunity, in protest against all efforts to violate the right to life and the right to act according to one’s conscience.”

On Jan. 20, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the administration would not expand a religious exemption for employers who object to its “preventative services” mandate (which the Register’s Joan Frawley Desmond reported on here).

Religious organizations continue to object to the rule.

Archbishop Carlson called on every pastor in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to urge the archdiocese’s Catholics to join the bishops in opposing the regulation and to write members of Congress.

“We will not be silent, but will the voice of the Church be heard? Only if you join us in giving witness to the right to life and the right to religious freedom!”

In his column, the archbishop said that the mandate’s religious exemption is “so narrowly crafted” that Catholic health-care providers, educational institutions and social-services agencies would have to be listed in the tax code as a church or similar entity, make the instruction of religious doctrine their organizational purpose, and generally refuse to hire or serve non-Catholics to qualify.

He cited Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan’s comments that the mandate violates freedom of conscience guaranteed by the First Amendment and several federal laws. Requiring those who object to purchase coverage for sterilization and contraceptives is “a radical incursion” into freedom of conscience.

Archbishop Dolan wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on the subject, stating: “This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.”

“The Catholic Church defends religious liberty, including freedom of conscience, for everyone,” the New York archbishop said.

With this decision, the cardinal-designate wrote, “the Obama administration has failed to show the same respect for the consciences of Catholics and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease.”

“Even Jesus and his disciples would not qualify for the exemption,” Cardinal-designate Dolan noted, “because they were committed to serve those of other faiths.”

“Scarcely two weeks ago, in its Hosanna-Tabor decision upholding the right of churches to make ministerial hiring decisions, the Supreme Court unanimously and enthusiastically reaffirmed these long-standing and foundational principles of religious freedom,” he recalled.

The court, he said, made it clear that religious institutions had the right “to control their internal affairs.”

But the Obama administration “has veered in the opposite direction.”

“It has refused to exempt religious institutions that serve the common good, including Catholic schools, charities and hospitals, from its sweeping new health-care mandate that requires employers to purchase contraception, including abortion-producing drugs, and sterilization coverage for their employees.”

Cardinal-designate Dolan called the move “an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience” that forces an “unacceptable dilemma” on believers: “Stop serving people of all faiths in their ministries, so that they will fall under the narrow exemption, or stop providing health-care coverage to their own employees.”

Non-exempt religious groups have been granted an additional year to comply with the mandate, a concession the future cardinal ridiculed, “as if we might suddenly be more willing to violate our consciences 12 months from now.”

“Never before in U.S. history has the federal government forced citizens to directly purchase a product that violates their beliefs,” Archbishop Carlson said.

Lay Catholic action is particularly necessary, Archbishop Carlson stressed.

“All too often, the Pope and the bishops are not taken seriously. We are ‘expected’ to speak out on these issues, people say; it’s part of our job.”

“Only when the Catholic community as a whole joins us in refusing to accept the ‘radical secularism’ of government officials, legislators and judges, will the voice of the Church be heard in all its strength and moral clarity,” the archbishop wrote.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles also urged lay Catholics to defend the faith in the wake of the HHS decision.

“In this case, the government is imposing a narrow, radically individualistic idea of religion,” Archbishop Gomez said in a column published this week in his archdiocesan newspaper, The Tidings

“As many have noted,” Archbishop Gomez said, the exemption for religious groups is so narrow that “much of what Jesus Christ did would not qualify as a ‘religious’ ministry.”

Everything the Church does, including health care, education and ministry to the poor, is “religious,” he emphasized. “All of our ministries and institutions are motivated by our love for God and our mission to spread the Gospel.”

“We don’t do these things,” he added, “because we are social workers or philanthropists. We do them because we are disciples.”

Archbishop Gomez said that what he finds most disturbing about the recent announcement is the government’s attempt to redefine Catholic charities, hospitals and colleges as non-religious institutions.

The administration is “presuming to have to competence and authority” to define what “religious faith is and how believers should express their faith commitments,” he warned.

“These are powers our government has never before assumed itself to have.”

He called on all Catholics, especially the laity, to “step up to their responsibilities for the Church’s mission” and “to be leaders in helping to shape the values and moral foundations of America’s future.”

The archbishop also noted the “prophetic advice” that Pope Benedict gave in his Jan. 19 address to U.S. bishops.

The Pope told the bishops of “the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity” that has the “courage to counter a reductive secularism” which is determining “the future of American society.”

Archbishop Gomez encouraged Catholics to pray for the nation’s leaders and entrusted his intentions to Mary Immaculate, patroness of America.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., is also speaking out. He thinks that the Obama administration’s decision is an attempt to force “Catholic health care to cease to be.”

“That’s the end goal here. I think we have to be very blunt about it,” he said in a Jan. 23 interview with EWTN News.

The congressman also responded to President Obama’s Jan. 22 statement on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in the United States.

President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to abortion, which he called a “fundamental constitutional right.” He added that the 1973 decision “also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.” 

Smith said that President Obama’s statement reveals his “bigotry and prejudice against the unborn child,” whom he fails to include as a family member.

He also observed that the president’s professed commitment to avoid interfering with the private matters of citizens is inconsistent with his administration’s Jan. 20 decision. Smith said that the mandate violates the conscience rights not only of those who object to contraception, but also those who object to abortion. The congressman warned that the “misguided” policy might be a foreshadowing of further coercive abortion policies in the future. 

He said that Americans must realize the significance of the threats being posed by the Obama administration’s attacks on conscience rights. 

“The mask is off,” he said. “It’s about time we woke up.”