On Jan. 20, 2012 a mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reaffirmed a rule that nearly all private health care plans must cover sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and contraception. The exemption provided for religious employers failed to cover the majority of faith-based organizations, including Catholic hospitals, universities and charities.
In response, U.S. bishops, including Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, disapproved. "There was no conscience protection whatsoever for insurers or individuals with religious or moral objections to being forced to help pay the cost of these abortions and sterilizations. This is a direct attack on religion and our First Amendment rights," said Bishop Taylor in a Jan. 25 letter. Read his letter. The diocese's health care ethicist also wrote about the rule in Arkansas Catholic.
Even though modifications were made by President Barrack Obama on Feb. 10, the rule "still forces (religious employers) to pay for services that violate their religious convictions," according to a USCCB bulletin insert released Feb. 15. See the insert in English or Spanish or read the U.S. bishops' response to learn more.
Since that time, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has devoted its efforts to fighting the mandate, speaking out for religious freedom and communicating the Church's teachings on contraception, sterilization and abortion. In March, the bishops called on all Catholics to pray for the protection of religious freedom and conscience protection.
"We call upon the Catholic faithful, and all people of faith, throughout our country to join us in prayer and penance for our leaders and for the restoration of our first freedom — religious liberty— which is not only protected in the laws and customs of our great nation, but rooted in the teachings of our great Tradition," the bishops said in "United for Religious Freedom" a March 14 statement. "Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength — for without God, we can do nothing; but with God, all things are possible."
On April 12, the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the USCCB issued the document, "Our First, Most Cherished Liberty," which detailed the bishops' concerns about threats to religious freedom worldwide and called on all Catholics to take part in the "Fortnight for Freedom," a 14-day period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom June 21-July 4.
In response, Respect Life Office for the Diocese of Little Rock mailed 42,000 prayer cards in English and Spanish to parishes to distribute to parishioners to pray for religious freedom. The English cards feature the image of St. Thomas More. The Spanish cards have an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
On May 4, Bishop Taylor asked all parishes to study the bulletin insert, "Religious Liberty: The Most Cherished of American Freedoms," which is available in English or Spanish, throughout the month of May. The document encourages parishioners to write to Congress and HHS opposing the mandate and calling for conscience protections by the deadline of June 19. To send your letters by e-mail, click here.
The bishop also provided homily notes, prayers of the faithful and other prayer resources. He is providing additional bulletin inserts and materials through December 2012. Topics for other months include: June: "Protecting Consciences: Why Conscience is Important"; July-August: Marriage, Sexuality and Openness to New Life; September: Conscience Formation; and December: Current Challenges and Calling the New Congress to Respond.
"Freedom of religion is far more than merely freedom of worship. Religious liberty is the freedom to live according to the dictates of our conscience every hour of every day, and not just one hour on Sunday. The Catholic Church teaches that religious liberty is a basic human right and so civil law must never 'require what conscience forbids or forbid what conscience requires.'"
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore will celebrate a Mass and Pilgrimage for Life and Liberty on Oct. 14 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. at 11 a.m. After the Mass, he will lead the recitation of the first day of the Rosary Novena for Life and Liberty, which will take place from October 14 to 22, 2012.
The following are updated regularly, so please visit these pages often to get the latest information.
- Religious Liberty
- Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty
- HHS Mandate
- Take Action Now: Contact Congress and HHS
- Conscience Protection: Bishops Call the Faithful to Get Informed, Advocate & Pray for Conscience Rights
- Fortnight for Freedom
- Conscience Protection and Prayer Resources
The following offers a list of teachings, statements, documents and bulletin inserts. These are available in Spanish when indicated.
- Human Life and Dignity, Church documents and teachings
- United for Religious Freedom, March 14 statement
- Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, 12-page document (En Español)
- Religious Liberty: The Most Cherished of American Freedoms, bulletin insert (En Español)
Diocese of Little Rock Resources
The following is a list of letters, homilies and articles about threats to religious liberty.
- Diocese backs religious freedom in postcard campaign, Arkansas Catholic, March 12, 2013
- HHS proposes changes to contraceptive mandate, Arkansas Catholic, Feb. 1, 2013
- Religious freedom under attack in all levels of government, religious freedom rally, Bishop Taylor, June 8, 2012
- Religious freedom rally draws ecumenical support, Arkansas Catholic
- Catholics invited to make comments on HHS contraceptive mandate by June 19, Arkansas Catholic
- The Blessings of Life, an Arkansas Catholic series
- U.S. Government is Redefining "Freedom of Religion," Mass for Life, Bishop Taylor, Jan. 22, 2012
- Bishop Taylor Addresses Parishioners, Jan. 25, 2012
- Four Reasons you Should Fight the HHS Ruling Against our Religious Liberty, Arkansas Catholic
- President Doesn't have Power to Force Catholics to Provide for Immoral Actions, Arkansas Catholic
- Two Choices After Ruling: Violate Conscience or Drop Health Insurance, Arkansas Catholic
Updated July 12, 2013