Karli Snell, Monica Deardorff and Emily Sturgeon, members of the pro-life youth group at St. John Cantius Parish in Chicago, join hundreds for the “Stand Up For Religious Freedom Rally” June 8 in Chicago. Rallies held across the nation took aim at the government’s HHS mandate that will require most employers to cover contraception and sterilization procedures in their health plans. The nation’s Catholic bishops have repeatedly criticized the mandate. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

Here is an editorial titled “These are the facts about the HHS mandate” from the Oct. 28 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newsweekly based in Huntington, Ind. It was written by the editorial board.

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For more than a year, the U.S. bishops have been sounding the alarm about what they see as serious threats to religious freedom in this country. At both the state and the federal level, there have been a series of legislative and court actions that are cause for grave concern: The restriction of the church in terms of ministering to undocumented workers and the requirement that Catholic adoption agencies give children to same-sex or unmarried couples are but two examples.

One of the most serious threats to religious freedom, however, is the current mandate by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to force religious organizations to provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization to their employees. This mandate uses devastating financial penalties — far greater than if an employer refuses to provide any health insurance at all — to coerce Catholic organizations to violate the teachings of their church and their consciences. And while it claims that it has exemptions for religious institutions, it so narrowly defines such institutions that only houses of worship qualify. If a Catholic organization does not employ primarily Catholics and does not serve primarily Catholics, it does not qualify for this exemption.

There are currently at least 35 lawsuits in federal court resisting these unjust requirements, arguing that this mandate is a gross violation of the guarantees of religious freedom promised by the First Amendment. Our Sunday Visitor is one of the organizations that have joined these lawsuits. As a self-insured, nonprofit company dedicated to our Catholic mission, we have been alarmed by the government’s efforts to reverse our long-standing policies and force us to pay for contraception and other services.

In light of all this, we were mightily surprised when, during the recent vice presidential debates, the Democratic candidate, himself a Catholic, told a nationwide audience:

“With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution — Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital — none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”

The facts are these: Catholic institutions ranging from dioceses to Catholic Charities to Catholic hospitals and universities — and non-Catholic institutions as well — are being forced to provide such coverage for their employees. When a company is self-insured, it is being forced to pay for these services directly. And as the U.S. bishops noted in a statement released after the debate, even where the “HHS has proposed an additional ‘accommodation’ for religious organizations … which HHS itself describes as ‘nonexempt,'” this proposed accommodation “does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation ‘to pay for contraception’ and ‘to be a vehicle to get contraception.'”

Such Catholic organizations will in fact be forced not only to provide these services but to pay for them, “because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.”

What the nation heard in the vice presidential debate was not factual. Our Sunday Visitor joins with the U.S. bishops in again appealing for a reversal of the unjust infringements on religious freedom imposed by the HHS mandate.

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The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of Catholic News Service or of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.