Archbishop Lori: religious values in business serve public interest

By Michelle Bauman

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Archbishop William Lori. Credit: Knights of Columbus.

Requiring religious organizations to abandon their moral convictions as they run their companies is a poor policy that fails to serve the common good, said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore.

“Religion is a seven-day-a-week commitment,” he explained, recalling Pope Benedict XVI’s call for consistency between the beliefs professed in church on Sunday and the business and medical practices promoted throughout the week.

In an Aug. 2 article in the Washington Post, Archbishop Lori questioned whether the federal government is truly serving the public interest and promoting universal health care by requiring organizations to violate their beliefs or drop their health coverage.
The archbishop’s comments addressed the federal contraception mandate that requires employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and early abortion-inducing drugs, even of doing so violates their consciences.

The first stage of implementing the mandate began on Aug. 1 and applies to the majority of U.S. employers as soon as they begin or renew their health insurance plan. Non-profit organizations that do not currently provide this coverage due to religious objections are granted a “safe harbor” that delays the mandate until Aug. 1, 2013.

Archbishop Lori explained that in defending the mandate, the Justice Department has insisted that for the sake of the public interest, “Catholics not only may, but must, leave their faith and values at the door when they operate a business during the week.”

However, a U.S. District Court judge in Colorado has determined that this is a “weak argument,” he said.

On July 27, Judge John Kane issued a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the mandate in Newland v. Sebelius, offering temporary protection to Hercules Industries, a Catholic-owned company that produces and distributes heating and air conditioning equipment.

The Newland siblings who own and run the company seek to do so in accordance with their faith, offering a “generous health plan for employees” that does not include products and procedures which violate Catholic teaching, such as contraception and sterilization, the archbishop observed.

The company also “subordinates profits to the well-being of their employees,” and the Newlands donate considerable funds to charitable causes such as relief efforts following the Colorado wildfires this summer.

In supporting the mandate, the Obama administration had argued that the federal government has a “compelling interest” in serving women’s health by increasing contraception access.

However, Kane found that this claim of a “compelling interest” is weakened by the fact that the government has decided not to apply the mandate to millions of other Americans for reasons that are far less fundamental than religious liberty, such as existing coverage by an older “grandfathered” plan.

In addition, Kane determined that any “public interest” served by imposing the mandate on Hercules Industries was “countered, and indeed outweighed, by the public interest in the free exercise of religion.”

This brings up the question of what role religious freedom plays in serving the public interest, Archbishop Lori said.

He explained that this question is important and relevant because the protection granted to Hercules Industries is only temporary, and there are three other Catholic-owned businesses along with dozens of non-profit religious organizations that have all filed lawsuits over the mandate.

“At a time when people recognize that the United States’ financial crisis was caused in part by corporations that operated without regard to moral values, does it really help the country to say that corporations must operate without deeply held beliefs and values?” the archbishop asked.

Furthermore, he questioned, “If an employer’s dealings with its employees and customers may not follow a Christian ethic, what ethic if any must it operate by?”

In an age when both the worlds of both business and politics “could use a healthy dose of values,” Archbishop Lori posited, Christians should heed the pope’s call to allow their faith to thoroughly permeate their lives.

Only then, he said, “can they truly make their contribution to our wonderfully diverse and pluralistic society.”

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