Catholic Bishops on the Fall Election – Fourth Message

This is the fourth of four message from Illinois Catholic bishops to the faithful:

This is the last of four bulletin inserts offering guidance and reflection points from Illinois’ Catholic Bishops in preparation for the elections of November 6, 2012. The first insert was an introduction to this effort; the second and third inserts focused on the formation of a Catholic conscience and how to make prudential judgments about various public policy issues. For a copy of the first three inserts, please go to

“[T]he right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.”
– Dignitatis Humanae, 2

This year, our own federal government, through the Department of Health and Human Services, mandated a new and narrow definition of “religious employer.” This unprecedented action could force the punishment or even closure of faith-based soup kitchens, schools and hospitals because these institutions would not fit under the federal government’s definition of “religious.” It is an ominous sign when the federal government issues the edict that Catholic Charities and other religious employers are not religious. The mandate is both illegal and unjust, and constitutes an unprecedented affront to religious liberty.1 As we did in the Fortnight for Freedom, we continue to ask the laity to pray and be active in opposing this mandate that we feel is a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as well as other federal laws.

As our fellow bishops have written: “Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith?…What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society—or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it.”2

A law that prohibits Catholics from living the Gospel publicly is a law that prohibits Catholics from living the Gospel faithfully. And so we join our brother bishops in calling upon “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” to oppose this threat to religious liberty.

“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports,” said George Washington in his Farewell Address. “In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens.”

It is important to remember that religious liberty is not a Catholic issue. It is not a Christian or Jewish or Muslim issue. It is an American issue. Fundamentally, it is a matter of social justice; for when religious liberty is endangered, the good of society itself is diminished.

As bishops, we seek to bring the light of the Gospel to our flocks, but the work of politics and deciding who will represent us in this representative democracy is up to committed and courageous lay Catholics. We urge you to be both engaged and articulate in insisting that as Catholics and as Americans that we do not have to choose between being either a Catholic or an American. There is an urgent need for the lay faithful, in cooperation with those of other faiths or none, to impress upon our elected representatives the vital importance of religious liberty for a free society.

On November 6, we have an opportunity—and an obligation—to do just that.

Through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, patroness of this nation, may God bless us all and continue to bless the United States of America.
= = = = =

1 For a list of other recent violations of religious liberty both here and abroad please read “Concerns Raised in ‘Our First, Most Cherished Freedom’” which can be seen at
2 “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,”


Catholic Bishops on the Fall Election – Fourth Message — 9 Comments

  1. Claims that the health law violates religious liberty are based on a “big lie”–a gross falsification constantly repeated and embellished to lend credibility. Notwithstanding claims to the contrary, the health care law does not force employers to act contrary to their consciences.

    Employers may comply with the law by choosing either of two options: (1) provide qualifying health insurance plans or (2) do not provide such plans and instead pay assessments to the government. Unless one supposes that the employers’ religions forbid payments of money to the government, the law does not compel them to act contrary to their beliefs.

    The second choice does not amount to “violating” the law and paying a “fine,” as some suppose. As the law “does not explicitly mandate an employer to offer employees acceptable health insurance” (, there is no such “mandate” to “violate.” Rather, the law affords employers two options, either of which is as lawful as the other.

    Nor are the assessments set so high that paying them would drive employers out of business, as some speculate. The law provides that if a “large employer” (i.e., one with at least 50 employees) chooses not to provide health insurance, it must pay assessments of $2,000 per year per employee after the first 30 employees. That is much less than an employer typically would pay for health insurance. Small employers would pay no assessments at all. Because of this potential saving and because the law affords individuals realistic opportunities to obtain insurance on their own, many employers are considering this option–for reasons entirely unrelated to religion. (

    In recently issued commentary on the various options of employers, the National Catholic Bioethics Center acknowledges, albeit grudgingly, that the option of not providing health insurance and instead paying assessments is “morally sound.” While also considering this option “unfortunate” in that the insurance employees would find on their own would include coverage the Center deems objectionable, the Center concludes that the employers’ “moral connection” to that coverage would be “remote.”

    Bottom line: Employers are not forced by the law to act contrary to their consciences. Rather, as recognized by even those who object to some aspects of the insurance the law makes available, the law affords employers with similar objections the morally sound option of not providing such insurance and paying assessments instead.

  2. Doug,

    Then why did Obama “promise” Bishop Dolan that there would be an “exception clause” to the bill?

    And then, why did Obama then admittedly renege on the agreement between them and absolutely deny the specific language which would unequivocally allow “freedom of conscience”?

    Cmon, Doug. Your spin is clever, but hides so many truths it is simply sinister. There’s technically and diabolically some degree of acuracy to your rambling, but it’s purpose is to hide the truth in legal technicalities.

    Obama hasn’t even denied that his Obamacare bill will limit religious freedom because that’s its intent.

    The idea that even President Obama thinks that there’s freedom of conscience goes against reality. You’re just trying to articulate the indefensible. Though pretty good, and you get an “A” for cleverness, you are simply WRONG.

    All the spin can’t change that.

  3. Skeptic,

    There is an exemption for religious organizations, so those organizations don’t even have to bother themselves with choosing among the options I mentioned that are available to all employers. The bishops just don’t like the scope of that exemption since it does not cover all of the various Catholic businesses (like hospitals) and charities. Those organizations must choose from the options I discussed, which still leaves them with choices that do not force them to act contrary to their religious beliefs.

    Why did Obama offer to negotiate a resolution with Dolan? Do you think perhaps he just wanted to smooth some ruffled feathers regardless of whether those feathers were rightfully ruffled? That’s just good politics.

    Dolan wasn’t satisfied though, and now we’re talking about whether the law burdens employers’ religious liberty by forcing them to act contrary to their consciences. Notwithstanding all the bishops’ arm waving, the law plainly does not do that–unless one supposes that employers’ religion forbids payments of money to the government (all of us should enjoy such a religion). They may not like paying money to the government and they may not like what the government does with the money, but those are garden variety gripes common to most taxpayers. Such gripes hardly amount to being forced to act contrary to one’s conscience. Should each of us be exempted from paying some portion(s) of our taxes so we aren’t thereby “forced” to pay for making war, providing health care, teaching evolution, or whatever else each of us may consider wrong or even immoral? If each of us could opt out of this or that law or tax with the excuse that our religion requires or allows it, the government and the rule of law could hardly operate.

    The bishops’ invocation of “religious liberty” is but a ploy to rile up their followers so they can achieve the political aim of gaining an exemption that allows employers to limit their employees’ choices to those conforming to the employers’ religious beliefs. Their aim is not religious liberty for themselves (they already have that), but rather power over their employees.

  4. What is ominous is the interjection of political doctrine into faith discussions within the church.

    No country on earth allows more freedom of the practice of religious belief than the United States, yet zealots are now crying “foul” as the Federal Government attempts to define the rights of women to receive birth control and other federally guaranteed health benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

    Contributing to the common good and performing good works does not equate to the performance of duties in a work environment where workers are paid.

    If people of faith cannot in good conscience work in an environment where equitable rules exist for the benefit of all, they are free to seek employment elsewhere.

    We continually see the disastrous results of Catholic doctrine in the dilemma of poor, young and disadvantaged women who need planning and education in childbearing.

    The church denies them the right to make their own decisions regarding birth control and termination of unwanted pregnancy, yet turns a blind eye to the plight of such when these children are born and require care, feeding, education and healthcare for themselves.

    More often than not these families become burdens on taxpayers as well as the church.

    A recent Washington University study of over 9,000 women showed dramatically lower rates of abortions and teen births when FREE birth control was available to lower income and uninsured women. (source: Daily Herald October 5, 2012)

    It is disingenuous for the bishops to equate such a narrow and politically defined view of religious liberty with social justice.

    Social justice is more properly seen in the context of equitable treatment of all citizens, not just those who seek to impose their religious beliefs on others.

    So as the Catholic bishops take it upon themselves to instruct you how to vote on November 6th, please be reminded that our country grants them no such freedom of expression without jeopardizing the generous tax exemptions they now enjoy.

  5. If you don’t agree with what an organization stands for, don’t work there.

  6. Brevity, Doug, is the soul of wit.

    Why didn’t Obama clear this disagreement up by writing a clear and unequivocal addendum allowing for the exemption?

    He promised Dolan he would do that.

    Obama then REFUSED to add it.

    This is VERY revealing. All the words in the world cannot deny this simple truth.

    The loquatiousness of Obama’s bill, and your argument, are of similar ilk.

    Doug, are you a lawyer?

  7. Just about time for the guys in funny hats to pay property tax.

    Just sayin.

  8. Skeptic,

    I’m just not interested in the hoo-ha about politics and drama about Obama and Dolan and all.

    My point is a legal one, i.e., that the law does not force any employers to act contrary to their consciences. The bishops’ assertions to the contrary are, to put it plainly, false. Your failure to directly address that simple, central point, much less try to refute it, is very revealing.

    Brief and pointed enough?

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