The Citizens Voice
Congressman Lou Barletta joined Catholic leaders Wednesday in speaking out against the Obama administration’s decision to force religious employers to provide health coverage that includes contraception.
“The decision by this administration to make Catholics violate their most basic principles is a violation of the most basic American principles,” Barletta, R-Hazleton, said on the House floor.
“I strongly condemn the Obama administration for this outrageous overreach of federal authority, and I strongly encourage the administration to rescind this unfair, un-American policy,” he said.
Catholic bishops, including the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton and the Most Rev. John O. Barres of Allentown, issued letters asking the faithful to contact Congress seeking a reversal of the president’s decision.
The bishops’ letters claim the administration violated the First Amendment, 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 either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer penalties for doing so),” the bishops wrote. “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.”
Religious employers have a year to comply with the requirement. Those who don’t comply could be fined $2,000 per employee per year, Barletta said.
Other federal lawmakers came out Wednesday in support of the mandate. A group of House Democratic women sought to frame the issue in economic and health terms, arguing that birth control reduces health costs and stops unintended pregnancies.
In a conference call, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., who said she spoke as a nurse, mother and grandmother, pointed out that 28 states have similar rules on coverage for birth control.
Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., said the church “can’t impose its religious views on people and whether they can have health care.”
Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky, also a Democrat, pointed out that the rule affects nurses, secretaries and janitorial staff who may not be Catholic.
About 1,000 employees, mostly teachers, would be impacted if the Diocese of Allentown was forced to discontinue health insurance, diocesan spokesman Matt Kerr said. In the Scranton diocese, 837 employees would be affected, said diocesan spokesman William Genello, The diocese continues to analyze the full impact as the numbers don’t include employees’ spouses or children, Genello said.
In Allentown, the diocese understands its employees’ concerns and continues to do everything possible to get an exemption from this mandate, preventing employees from being left without health coverage, Kerr said.
“In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same,” the bishops wrote.
The letters, based on a template supplied by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., circulated to parishes in 170 dioceses around the country, Kerr said.
“What the Obama administration is doing is unprecedented abuse of presidential power, and every American, not just Catholics, should be outraged,” said Ken Skuba of Sugarloaf Township, who is a grand knight of the Knights of Most Precious Blood Church in Hazleton. “It is the most blatant assault on the freedom of religion by any U.S. president, and it is aimed specifically at Catholics and Catholic moral teaching.”
Don Galade, vice president of the Hazleton Chapter of Pennsylvania for Human Life, is among those who oppose any form of abortion as part of a health care program, as so-called morning-after pills and birth control pills cause a medical abortion, he said.
“Abortion is not health care,” he said. “It’s murder and should not even be considered a part of any health care legislation.”
Standing up for Catholics’ rights from the House floor, Barletta called the administration’s decision “a devastating blow” against religious freedom.
“The United States of America has long been a place of religious freedom. It’s one of the things that separates us from foreign countries,” Barletta said.
“Just as the federal government should not endorse a religion, it should not punish a religion. All religions must be treated equally. They must be respected,” he said. “That’s the American way.”