S. 2578’s Unprecedented Attack on Conscience and Religious Freedom

On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores that the HHS contraceptive mandate cannot be used to force a family business to provide coverage for drugs and devices that violates the family members’ religious convictions. The Court relied on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1993. Legal challenges by non-profit religious groups are still pending.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) has introduced a bill (S. 2578) that would not only reverse Hobby Lobby, but would range more broadly. It negates any right that employers, insurers or employees may have, under RFRA or any other federal law, to opt out of federally mandated coverage. The Senate may vote on this anti-conscience bill as early as Wednesday, July 16. Please contact your Senators today!

Recommended Actions:

  • Send e-mails through NCHLA’s Action Center. Click here.
  • Contact your Senators by phone. Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at: 202-224-3121, or call Senators’ local offices. Full contact info is on Senators’ web sites at: www.senate.gov.

Suggested Message: “Please vote against the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act (S. 2578). This misnamed measure would revoke conscience rights now guaranteed by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and other federal laws. In the future it could 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.”

When: The Senate may vote as early as Wednesday, July 16. Please contact your Senators today!

Sen. Murray’s bill states that an employer has no right to opt out of a federal mandate for any specific benefit, for any employees or their “covered dependents.” In the future this could include RU-486 or elective surgical abortions. Employees themselves, and women and men buying individual coverage, also have no right to object. The Act overrides RFRA and “any other provision of Federal law” that gets in the way. Crippling penalties could be imposed on sponsors and issuers of insurance who provide generous coverage, but object in conscience to a specific “item or service.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urges Senators to oppose S. 2578. See: nchla.org/datasource/idocuments/071414LoriOMalleyLtrMurrayUdallBill.pdf.

The HHS mandate requires health plans to cover all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives, female sterilization, and “counseling and education” promoting these to women and minor girls. It allows only a very narrow religious exemption, chiefly for “houses of worship.” Nonprofit religious groups serving the vulnerable, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, receive only an “accommodation” requiring them to authorize their insurer or third-party administrator to provide the objectionable items. In its Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court allowed an opt-out for family businesses with religious objections (the objection in this case being to drugs or devices that can be abortifacient); other cases are pending. But S. 2578 would nullify laws to protect anyone’s conscience, once the federal government decides to mandate coverage of any item. Even the “exemption” and “accommodation” on contraception could be modified only in ways that serve the bill’s purpose of maximizing mandated coverage. For more information: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/S-2578-Backgrounder.pdf.


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Chris Codden’s Visitor Column About Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day marks its 100 anniversary in the United States this year. While that is certainly a long history, did you know how Mother’s Day came about?

The celebration of Mother’s Day finds its origins in ancient Greece and Rome. In Greece, there were spring festivals to honor maternal goddesses. In Rome, about 250 BC, a three day celebration on the ides of March was held to commemorate the mother goddess and included activities such as parades, games and masquerades.

The early Christians celebrated Mother’s Day on the fourth Sunday of Lent to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.

From there, “Mothering Sunday” began in England in the 1600’s. This was also observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent, and included the tradition of people returning to their “Mother Church” as part of the event. The activities started with a prayer service in church to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. Children brought gifts of fruit-filled pastries and flowers to their own mothers. Employers gave the day off to their servants, apprentices and others that were away from their homes due to work, and encouraged them to visit their mothers.

The celebration in the United States is mostly attributed to two women, Anna Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe.

In 1858, Anna Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker, organized “Mother’s Work Days.” Its goal was to improve the sanitation and avert deaths from disease-bearing insects and seepage of polluted water. In 1868, she organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” an initiative to heal the bitter rifts between her Confederate and Union neighbors. After this successful campaign. Mrs. Jarvis promoted the encouragement of honoring all mothers, living and dead, to pay tribute for their contributions.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, pacifist, women’s suffragist and author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” established a special day for mothers –and for peace—after the bloody Franco-Prussian War. She wrote her famous Mothers Day Proclamation, urging women to rise against war. She wondered, “Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?”

Howe’s version of Mother’s Day, was held successfully in Boston and elsewhere for several years, but eventually lost popularity and disappeared from public notice in the years preceding World War I.

After Mrs. Jarvis’ death in 1905, her daughter also named Anna, decided to memorialize her mother’s lifelong activism, and began a campaign to make Mother’s Day a national celebration. Though Anna Jarvis never married and never had kids, it was her desire to honor her mother, making it a holiday to honor each individual’s mother, your mother, not all mothers. Thus, the name is singular, not plural.

To begin with, Anna sent carnations, her mother’s favorite flower, for a church service in Grafton, West Virginia where Mother Jarvis had taught, to honor her mother, symbolizing a mother’s pure love. Gathering much support for her efforts, Anna began lobbying for an official declaration to make Mother’s Day a national holiday. She sent a constant stream of letters to men of prominence — President William Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt among them — and enlisted considerable help from Philadelphia merchant John Wannamaker. Her letters included a quote from her mother, “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day,” the senior Jarvis said. “There are many days for men, but none for mothers.”

In 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in 45 states, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Mexico and Canada. Mother’s Day was proclaimed by their respective governors in West Virginia in 1912 and in Pennsylvania in 1913.

When it reached the U.S. Legislature, senators on both sides of the aisle were not overly impressed by the idea. New Hampshire Senator Jacob Gallinger, a Republican, found the idea of limiting the celebration of his mother to just one day insulting. Senator Henry Moore Teller of Colorado, a Democrat, felt even more strongly, saying it was “absolutely absurd,” “puerile,” and “trifling.” Yet, on May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a Joint Resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, a national day of celebration.

It is unfortunate to note that Ms Anna Jarvis, who devoted her life for the declaration of Mother’s Day was deeply hurt by the commercialization of the day. Today, flower sales are reported at $1.9 billion (FTD), 133 million cards are sent (Hallmark) and phone calls increase 37% (AT&T).

Yet, the opportunity to honor our mother, thank her for the gift of life, raising us in kindness, compassion and courage deserves at least one day on our calendar. It is fitting too, that it falls in the month of May, the month we set aside to honor the mother of Jesus and the Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Wishing all mothers a very blessed Mother’s Day.

Chris Codden’s Column from the March 14th Edition of the Visitor

As we begin these 40 days of Lent, we are called to pray, fast and give alms.  Our prayers and fasting are urgently needed for the impending decisions facing the U.S. Supreme Court and their rulings in two very important cases:  Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and a related case, Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius.

These two cases challenge the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate which requires employers to provide employee health insurance that includes contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs, and female sterilization.  Challenging this mandate are Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned family business based in Oklahoma, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Mennonite owned furniture manufacturer based in East Earl, Pennsylvania.

These cases involve the question of whether a business, as well as its owners, have a right to religious freedom under the First Amendment.  For Conestoga Woods, their suit states that it would be “sinful and immoral” for them to pay for or support certain forms of contraception as required by compliance with the Affordable Care Act.  Hobby Lobby’s suit says, “The Green family’s religious beliefs forbid them from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting abortion-causing drugs and devices.”

The question at hand then is whether the religious owners of family businesses, or their closely held, for-profit corporations, are free to exercise their religious rights which are being violated by the application of the contraceptive-coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act.  These cases will be heard on March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation.

Another case involves the Little Sisters of the Poor who are seeking to uphold their right to carry out their vows of obedience in their service to the poor where the elderly and dying are cared for with love and dignity until they pass into eternal life. They adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church and uphold the dignity of each human person, especially those deemed weak and vulnerable.

The suit seeks protection not only for the Little Sisters, but for other Catholic organizations who provide health benefits consistent with their religious faith. This is a different issue since the Obama Administration has offered an exemption for religious nonprofit organizations, but to receive this partial accommodation, they have to sign the two-page form and send it to the “third-party administrator” of their health insurance plans.  This is in essence still providing the coverage through someone else or it is like asking someone else to sin on its behalf or providing services that destroy human life, contradicting their very mission to respect it.  The Little Sisters suit is now waiting for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule.

What is at stake in all of these cases has little to do with healthcare.  If it was about true “healthcare,” the HSS mandate would have included life-saving drugs such as medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, or chemotherapy.  If it was about “healthcare,” Kathleen Sebelius would have concerned herself with more important aspects of health, instead of mandating pills, products and procedures that actually destroys health and life.

What is at stake is what we mean when we say “freedom of religion.” Over the past years, many have come to equate “freedom of religion” with “freedom of worship,” that people are free to believe (or not believe) whatever they want, as long as it stays in the confines of four walls with a steeple.

The U.S. Bishops address this in their 2012 document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. “Some question whether it is appropriate for the Church to play a role in political life. However, the obligation to teach about moral values that should shape our lives, including our public lives, is central to the mission given to the Church by Jesus Christ. Moreover, the United States Constitution protects the right of individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference, favoritism, or discrimination. Civil law should fully recognize and protect the Church’s right, obligation, and opportunities to participate in society without being forced to abandon or ignore its central moral convictions. Our nation’s tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions and concerns into public life. Indeed, our Church’s teaching is in accord with the foundational values that have shaped our nation’s history: ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’”


Chris Codden’s Vistor Column on Valentines Day

One of my favorite holidays (besides Christmas and Easter) is St. Valentine’s Day.  As a child, I enjoyed making Valentines for each of my classmates, constructing the special envelope or box to accept cards and reading each card I received.  It is no wonder then, that I enjoy the giving and receiving of those treasures today.

Maybe it is because we treat one another a bit nicer when we intentionally sit down to write thoughtful notes, or maybe it is because chocolate is sometimes involved, or moreover, maybe it is about how Christ teaches us to love, not for what we get, but for the joy we give. Our hearts turn away from ourselves, even if just for a minute or two, that makes the world a better place.

Pope Francis released his 2014 Lenten message last week, which illustrates this point:  “God’s becoming man is a great mystery! But the reason for all this is his love, a love which is grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved. Charity, love, is sharing with the one we love in all things. Love makes us similar, it creates equality, it breaks down walls and eliminates distances. God did this with us.  (Vatican City, February 4, 2014)

Nowhere more important for us to show this love is in our own homes.  The love for our spouse and family is where we begin.  Blessed Mother Teresa reminded us that:  “Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own home. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor . . . Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”

As spouses, on the day of our marriage, we make wonderful promises in front of a myriad of people.  We show a PDA (public display of affection), we profess our love openly, and we pray for God’s grace and blessing.  In the months and years after that, we may not exhibit those same actions as freely, forgetting the importance of expressing our love and devotion and take it for granted.  But it is important to take the time on those special days (and the not-so-special days) to show our love for each other, to grow the love we so easily shared on our wedding day, to rekindle in us the understanding that “I love you because you are you and Christ entrusted you to me.”

In 1994 on the occasion of the International Year of the Family, the U.S. Catholic Bishops released a statement called Follow the Way of Love.  In the pastoral message, the bishops reminded married couples to:  “renew your commitment regularly, seek enrichment often, and ask for pastoral and professional help when needed.”

Renewing our commitment regularly can be as simple as making intentional time to talk, uninterrupted by the TV, telephone, the children, etc. to share our hopes and dreams with each other.  It is in those precious moments to say words of affirmation, express gratitude for each other and to enjoy physical closeness that speaks to the very heart of the beloved.

Seek enrichment often can also be simple.  Most marriage counselors and professionals recommend married couples make an annual retreat.  Worldwide Marriage Encounter is an excellent experience that assists couples in building better communication techniques, while fostering the profound relationship Christ has called us to in the Sacrament of Marriage.  (To find out more, go to wwme.org).  Many times retreats or workshops are available through the parish or community.

Ask for pastoral and professional help when needed.  Many couples find themselves in situations that are very difficult to work through on their own.  This is not a sign of weakness and can take great courage to admit that outside help is necessary.  Our diocese is blessed with many good Christian counselors for those times.  It can truly assist couples to rebuild their relationship and find their way to a happy and holy marriage.  For a trusted counselor in your area, your pastor can be a helpful resource.

God wants us to lead happy, holy lives serving each other, our families and the Church.  He rejoices with us in the good times and provides His infinite grace in the difficult days.  May we take this opportunity with a little help from St. Valentine, to renew our love for one another and to help get our spouse to heaven.

USCCB Releases New Video on Marriage

The US bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage has released the third video in its catechetical series for the promotion and protection of marriage. El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida (Marriage: Made for Love and Life) is a 30-minute film in Spanish with English subtitles, accompanied by a bilingual study guide.

El Matrimonio invites viewers into a story about a faithful marriage of 50 years and a young man and woman skeptical of marriage. The film and study guide address all four catechetical themes of the Marriage Unique for a Reason initiative: sexual difference and complementarity, the good of children, the common good, and religious freedom.