My brothers and sisters of faith. Today, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago joined an ongoing lawsuit in federal court in Chicago seeking to overturn the mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services commanding us to compromise our Catholic principles. The sole matter at hand is that religious freedom has been compromised by the mandate in violation of the First Amendment of our nation’s Constitution.
Prior to exercising this legal option, Catholic Charities, as well as many other faith-based organizations, made every attempt to engage government in hopes of resolving this issue outside of a courtroom. I personally wrote letters to express our concerns. In my letters, I expressed my unease with the HHS mandate but, more importantly, I communicated my concerns regarding the very limited definition of “religious employer” who is exempt from the mandate.
Despite my efforts, and those of other people of faith, to persuade the federal government to address these important issues, HHS has determined that the only acceptable definition of “religious employer” is an organization that serves and employs persons of the same faith and whose primary purpose is to spread the faith and not to serve the poor.
In issuing such an overly narrow definition of “religious employer,” HHS fails to understand that there is no distinction between our Catholic faith and our commitment to serve the needs of all people regardless of their religion. Adhering to the mandate is contrary to the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic faith — which Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago cannot do. Restructuring to comply with the HHS mandate’s narrow definition of a “religious employer” is not an option because this would not allow us to live out the beliefs and teachings of our Catholic faith and continue to serve all those in need. It also prevents us from employing the most qualified people, regardless of their religion.
As all of us know, Catholic Charities serves the poor because we are a Catholic organization, not because our clients are Catholic. We strongly believe at Catholic Charities that we witness our faith by our service to the poor. We ask only, “Are you hungry?” “Do you need clothing?” or “Are you homeless?” Under the HHS mandate, to be a “religious employer” we would now have to ask, “Are you Catholic?” This goes against everything that Catholic Charities stands for as an organization. Under the HHS mandate, we are punished for both employing and reaching out to serve non-Catholics, which is an injustice.
For 95 years, Catholic Charities has embodied this commitment to serving anyone and everyone from every walk of life, who have one thing in common: being in need. We opened our doors in Chicago in 1917, when Woodrow Wilson was president. Never before has the United States government forced religious organizations to compromise core religious beliefs as a price for serving the poor and most marginalized members of our communities.
We support health care reform and efforts to expand access to health care to all Americans. But we oppose any policy that compels us to compromise our Catholic faith. Make no mistake: This mandate affects all religions and anyone of faith. This is an American issue, and this is about religious liberty. If the obligations of a person’s faith and the ability to follow their conscience are impeded by government, then we can no longer claim to be a country where freedom of religion is a constitutional guarantee and an essential liberty on which our country was founded.
We are clearly a religious organization that serves the poor. No one can rationally dispute this. At this time, the HHS position remains unchanged, and their attempts to make accommodations are unacceptable. We must take a stand, not only on behalf of Catholic Charities, but for all faith-based organizations. We must also protect our right to serve the poor. Therefore, I ask you to join me in supporting our fight against the government’s attempt to strip us of one of our most cherished freedoms as people of faith and as Americans.
Rev. Msgr. Michael M. Boland
Administrator, President and CEO
Note: This announcement was made at press time. We will have a follow up story in the next issue.