At the end of Mass, Catholics are sent forth: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” That is the duty of the laity because they “live in the midst of the world and its concerns, to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ” (Second Vatican Council, Apostolicam Actuositatem, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, 2). This instruction also applies to Catholic employers — whether they engage in ministry, health care, education, or business — as they navigate hostile cultural waters.
The most distinctive thing about the American founding was its protection of religious freedom. This protection was embodied in the Constitution and, subsequently, in hundreds of statutes and ordinances that accommodated or exempted religiously conscientious individuals and organizations. As late as 1993, a unanimous House and 97 senators enacted, and President Clinton signed, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Since then, the cultural consensus reflected in those laws has been under attack by sexual and secular activists. Statutes, regulations, and court decisions related to life issues and redefining acceptable sexual norms often omit religious exemptions that once were commonplace.
A few examples: — Catholic schools require teachers to model Catholic values. Teachers with live-in partners of the same or opposite sex model something else. When terminated, these teachers claim legal protection under offpremises conduct and civil rights statutes. — Affordable Care Act regulations require employer health plans to provide “contraceptives” (defined to include abortifacients and sterilization). While many legal challenges, including two that my organization brought, have resolved favorably, these mandates remain in effect and attempts by the current administration to provide religious exemption are mired in court. Meanwhile, 28 states impose their own contraceptive coverage mandates. Four — California, New York, Maine, Oregon — even require that health plans cover surgical abortion. — Most Catholic employers are unaware that their health insurers may have added a gender dysphoria rider to their plans. The rider covers not only hormone treatments for insured “transitioning” employees and their family members, but also a host of mutilating surgeries including vaginectomy, metoidioplasty, and orchiectomy. — The ACA mandates that employers cover federally approved clinical trials. At least 36 approved trials are based on use of human embryonic stem cells or tissue harvested from aborted fetuses — each destroying innocent human life.
For conscientious Catholic employers, these rules require direct cooperation with what their faith forbids. Compliance in their employment practices and benefits programs results in scandal and undermines the employer’s credibility. Failure to comply risks crushing fines and possible liability. What should a conscientious Catholic employer do?
Catholics are blessed with several organizations ready to assist in this effort. While their strategies require a longer discussion, two critical aspects of their success are becoming informed and maintaining consistent and comprehensive Catholic identity.
Becoming informed means, at the least, asking the organization’s insurance agent or third-party administrator (TPA) specific questions: Does my policy or plan cover contraceptives? Does it cover abortion-inducing drugs and devices or surgical abortion? Does it cover transgender services? Does it cover all FDA-approved clinical trials? If the answer is yes, direct the agent or TPA to cease all such coverage and confirm in writing that this has been done.
In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, the Supreme Court held that for-profit employers have religious liberty rights when they operate in sync with their religious values. For Catholic employers, maintaining Catholic identity requires that their organizing documents, mission statement, human resources materials, and business practices thoughtfully reflect Catholic values. If litigation is required, a comprehensively defined and practiced Catholic identity significantly helps secure religious liberty protection. It’s also how Catholic employers become leaven in the world.
DOUG WILSON, a member of the Colorado Springs Chapter, is CEO of the Catholic Benefits Association, which assists member Catholic employers of all types in the legal defense of their religious rights and in providing employee benefits consistent with Catholic values.