‘The health-care law puts my family in an impossible dilemma, where we have to choose between violating our freedom of conscience and giving up freedoms protected under the Constitution, or facing severe government penalties that will harm our families and put us out of business,” Carrie Kolesar of Seneca Hardwood Lumber Co. in Cranberry, Pa., tells National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez in an interview. “No American should be faced with a decision like that,” she continues.
Kolesar is a part owner of this family business established in 1961. The family is Catholic and considers the HHS contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing-drug “Preventative Services” mandate — which the White House has introduced as part of its health-care law — a clash with conscience.
Kolesar and her family, the Heplers, have joined a lawsuit with Geneva College, a Presbyterian school in Pennsylvania, against the HHS over the mandate, which went into effect on August 1.
“We only ask that the government uphold freedom and not bully us into purchasing insurance for ourselves and our employees that would force us to abandon essential tenets of our faith,” Kolesar tells National Review.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What’s your role in the family business?
CARRIE KOLESAR: I am a part owner and board member with my parents and six of my siblings.
LOPEZ: How important is the business to your family’s life and livelihood?
KOLESAR: My husband works full time for the company, so it constitutes our entire livelihood and is the source of our health insurance.
LOPEZ: When did your family first realize that this HHS mandate was going to be a problem for you?
KOLESAR: Shortly after the mandate was issued, we realized that if we could no longer ask our insurance company to write out products and procedures that we believe are wrong, we would be unable to ethically provide insurance for ourselves and our employees.
LOPEZ: When and why did you decide to sue the government?
KOLESAR: A few weeks after the mandate was finalized, I saw that Alliance Defending Freedom was taking a case for a private business and I contacted them for advice regarding our situation. The HHS mandate has put us in a situation where we can’t provide insurance for ourselves and our employees without violating our moral obligations and freedom of conscience. My parents, my siblings, and I believe that the public and our government need to be more aware of the problems caused when we don’t protect freedom of conscience.
LOPEZ: What does it mean for you as an American to have to sue the government?
KOLESAR: As an American, I am part of the government “by the people.” Religious freedom is a fundamental freedom granted to us by God and protected by the government. We have a duty to shape and inform our government when it is failing to do its job.
LOPEZ: What’s your reaction to those who accuse the likes of Cardinal Dolan, who are opposing the mandate, of waging a “war on women”?
KOLESAR: That’s ridiculous. Catholic leaders have an obligation to communicate the teaching of the Catholic Church, which has consistently taught that contraception and abortion are gravely wrong and harmful to women and society.
LOPEZ: Shouldn’t contraception and these other things have nothing to do with business — should you really have the right to keep coverage from your employees for these things, who may not all agree with you?
KOLESAR: Every American, including family-business owners, should be free to live and do business according to his or her faith. Faith is not a separate compartment of one’s life but is part of every decision. A government that demands I leave my faith at home when I go to work doesn’t understand faith or freedom. We ask only that the government uphold freedom and not bully us into purchasing insurance for ourselves and our employees that would force us to abandon essential tenets of our faith.
LOPEZ: Do you feel like you’re in an ecumenical fight?
KOLESAR: Sure. Many individuals and denominations agree with the Catholic Church on this issue of religious freedom. In fact, Seneca Hardwood joined Geneva College, a Protestant institution, in its existing suit. Most Americans understand that a threat to the right of one group to fulfill their moral obligations according to their conscience threatens the protection of conscience generally.
LOPEZ: Do you feel like you are participating in a Catholic renewal at the same time? Where people are reconsidering what their faith means in their daily lives and work?
KOLESAR: God can use all things for good. Threats like this present us with the opportunity to deepen our faith and increase our efforts to witness and sacrifice.
More broadly, I think we can see Catholics reconsidering the teachings of the Church in order to take a stance on current events or to decide how their faith will inform their day-to-day decisions. If you take an honest look at the actual documents of the Church regarding sexuality the beauty and goodness shine through. If more people are reading these teachings and talking about them, that’s a good thing!
LOPEZ: What would you say to the president if you could address him about this fight you’re in? What do you wish every American could know about how the health-care law is affecting you and your family and those who rely on you?
KOLESAR: It’s a moral and political loss if you take away the fundamental freedoms of one group in order to satisfy the desires of another. Contraception and assistance in its purchase is widely available and it is dishonest to imply that it would be unavailable to those who want it without the HHS mandate.
I have found that there is a lot of misunderstanding and false assumptions about the Catholic position on the mandate, which creates unnecessary division. Relying solely on typical short media pieces or Internet discussions is inadequate. Americans have the responsibility to be sure that we are properly informed about issues. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has published many helpful statements on these issues, all available on their website.
I also particularly enjoyed a piece by Melissa Moschella on the related topic of conscience. It acknowledges the concerns on both sides of the discussion and clarifies proper recourse to conscience in a very logical manner.
The health-care law puts my family in an impossible dilemma, where we have to choose between violating our freedom of conscience and giving up freedoms protected under the Constitution, or facing severe government penalties that will harm our families and put us out of business. No American should be faced with a decision like that.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.