This past weekend the Chief of Chaplains of the U.S. Army forbade Catholic chaplains from reading, in Sunday Masses, a letter about a controversial Department of Health and Human Services. In the forbidden letter, Archbishop Timothy Broglio encouraged Catholics in military congregations to disobey a federal government mandate — part of President Obama’s health care overhaul — requiring Catholic employers to provide health coverage that includes “sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception.”
The text of our Constitution’s First Amendment reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Archbishop Broglio wrote “The administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States denying Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty.”
“And, as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to choose between violating our consciences or dropping health care coverage for our employees (and suffering the penalties for doing so),” he added.
“We cannot—and will not—comply with this unjust law.”
Two issues are a stake here: (1) freedom of speech, and (2) the free exercise of religion. An ancillary question arises: Is the exercise of religion confined to what happens inside a church on Sunday’s? Hopefully the President and his administration in Washington will reconsider the mandate. This isn’t simply “a Catholic issue,” it’s an issue that should concern all Americans of conscience.