Unless Congress acts, as the HHS mandate takes effect many religious employers will be forced to pay heavy government fines that will endanger their ability to carry out their ministries.
Those ministries are extensive. Service to those in need is central to the Catholic faith, and our dioceses serve all our neighbors without regard to their religion.
Our social service ministries help the homeless, offer free health care, support pregnancy and parenting programs and help meet the needs of senior citizens, among many other activities.
In 2012 alone, Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh provided 239,089 acts of service to people in need, among them the nearly 8,000 people who received medical or dental care at our Free Health Clinic.
Catholic ministries in the Diocese of Erie provide similar services.
To take two examples, St. Martin Center helps struggling individuals and families get back on their feet and Prince of Peace Center’s soup kitchen serves about 5,700 people a year.
Our communities are fortunate that for now these programs won’t face crippling government fines.
But consider those local numbers and extend them to other communities across Pennsylvania and throughout the nation.
Those places are served by Catholic ministries as well, and in most places they have no judicial protection from the overwhelming fines the mandate imposes.
When the government begins implementing the mandate, the poor and those who serve them stand to suffer the most.
Congress can prevent this from happening. The House has previously passed language to delay enforcement of these fines long enough to give the courts a chance to rule in defense of our religious freedom.
Our senators, Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, should now take the lead in the Senate to prevent our ministries from being fined for witnessing to the fullness of our faith.
They both know that we’re called to live our faith not just within the four walls of a church on Sundays, but through service to our neighbors each and every day. They also surely know that the government has now granted many significant exemptions and delays from the health-care law.
Yet people of faith seem to be the only ones whose concerns are not being heard by our president and his administration, even as multiple courts have found that the mandate unlawfully infringes on religious freedom.
It’s time for Congress to provide relief from this burdensome mandate for those who seek to live by their faith. The fines that the mandate is designed to impose will harm the charitable activities of countless colleges, hospitals and social services across Pennsylvania and the country.
To our senators: Please stand with us and lead the way.
A Toomey-Casey lead would be a good one given the Keystoners would be a bipartisan duo, immediately deflating some of the “war on women” nonsense that will predictably be thrown out to try to scare senators away from it. Consider the faces of the victims of the abortion-drug, contraception, sterilization mandate — people like the elderly poor people whose lives are treasured by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Perhaps some sensible women in the senate by join their sister Kelly Ayotte in protecting the religious freedom of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Sister Constance here is, after all, a woman, too. What about the real, outrageous, outlandish “war” (Kathleen Sebelius’s word, not mine) on her we’re seeing in the Obama administration’s stubborn insistence they violate their consciences or face fines or other choices — like closing homes — they simply should not be forced by the federal government to make?