Catholics draw line in sand over HHS mandate

By Jerry Circelli

Correspondent

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Stand up for Religious Freedom rallies were held across the nation this year as Americans turned out to protest the federal HHS mandate that requires insurance provider plans to include abortifacients, birth control, and sterilization. (Photo by Matt Yonke / Courtesy Pro Life Action League)

“It’s time to step up.” Greg Hall, Catholic deacon and businessman


Deacon Greg Hall prayed hard earlier this year before waging a costly legal battle over a federal law requiring his company to offer health insurance for abortion-causing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization. It was not the first time Dcn. Hall, a business owner from Cypress, Texas, has had to dig down deep in his soul and stand firm about his convictions, his company, and his Christian beliefs.

In 2010, the Chilean government urgently requested that Dcn. Hall come up with a plan, manpower, expertise, and equipment to rescue 33 men hopelessly trapped in a collapsed copper and gold mine a half mile underground. Dcn. Hall, who owns a mining and exploration equipment company in that South American nation, was faced with a multitude of challenges in the rescue. Among the seemingly impossible tasks at hand would be drilling a large hole 800 meters deep through solid granite, with no fluids, and reaching the trapped miners before they starved to death. Through perseverance and prayer, Dcn. Hall and his company, Drillers Supply International, succeeded. After 69 days, all 33 miners were rescued alive.

Today, Dcn. Hall faces another challenge involving life and death — a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate, under the Affordable Care Act, forcing companies like his to offer heath insurance coverage for abortifacients, as well as contraceptives and sterilization.

When Dcn. Hall found out from his insurance provider that he would be required by the government to comply with the morally objectionable mandate through his company health plan, he recalled going home angry and praying to God for help. Dcn. Hall said he asked God, “Why won’t somebody stand up?” Then deep inside, he heard his Creator’s reply, “Yeah, Greg. Why won’t somebody stand up?”

Dcn. Hall consulted with his wife, prayed more, and then made an executive decision of the highest order.

“There was no way possible, morally, that I could pay for those things that violated our faith,” said Dcn. Hall. “On the other hand, our employees are very important to us, and we wanted them to have health insurance. So we sued.”

Dcn. Hall’s February 2013 suit was made on behalf of his Minnesota-based drilling equipment business, American Manufacturing Company, one of three corporations he owns. His other businesses are in Texas and Chile.

In April 2013, a U.S. District Court granted Dcn. Hall’s Minnesota company a preliminary injunction. This represented a temporary victory for Dcn. Hall, as he was able to renew his company’s group health plan without being required to provide and pay for abortifacients, contraceptives, and sterilization.

Dcn. Hall does not know the ultimate outcome of the HHS ruling as it continues through the courts. But of one thing he is certain. He will never violate his Catholic faith by offering abortion-inducing drugs and the other “services” mandated by the government.

“I have no idea what I’m going to do if we lose, but I do know this — I will not pay and I will not comply, regardless. Bottom line. Period.”

Dcn. Hall is pleased that other companies and nonprofits have joined in the HHS mandate challenge and encourages more to get involved. “We need people to stand up,” said Dcn. Hall.

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Greg Hall, Catholic deacon and business owner, said he cannot comply with the HHS mandate that violates his faith. Earlier this year, he challenged the mandate with a lawsuit. It is not the first time Dcn. Hall has had to dig down deep to confront a challenge. In 2010 he led the successful rescue of 33 Chilean miners trapped a half mile under solid granite, a dramatic effort that drew worldwide attention and acclaim to both his company and the miners and their faith. Their story was featured in the North Texas Catholic. (Photo courtesy of Deacon Greg Hall)

The deacon drew parallels between taking on rescue challenges in Chile and confronting religious freedom issues in the United States today. “When we went to Chile, the chances of success were very, very slight, because it was so hard. It had never been done before. But the point was that we either had to stand up and do what was right or just walk away and maybe people die.

“And for whatever reason, God called us to step up. And I just pray that people now will realize that it’s time to step up. We don’t have any more wiggle room ... It’s time.”

In all, there are 67 cases and more than 200 plaintiffs involved in challenging the HHS mandate, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit legal and educational group. The list includes nonprofit hospitals, charities, religious colleges, and Catholic dioceses, as well as for-profit businesses. The Diocese of Fort Worth is one of the nonprofit organizations that has filed suit.

Becket maintains an “HHS Info Central,” website where they track the status of all suits being filed to challenge the HHS mandate. Included in that list are eight clients The Becket Fund represents, including the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), a Catholic global television network based in Irondale, Alabama; Ava Maria University, a renowned Catholic higher education institution in Ave Maria, Florida; and Hobby Lobby, a national retailer headquartered in Oklahoma City.

Becket Fund Senior Counsel Lori Windham told the North Texas Catholic that a blatant disregard for the Constitution of the United States is at the heart of the problem with the HHS mandate.

“The whole premise of the American constitutional system is that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that government exists to preserve those rights,” Windham said.

“These are not things that can be given or taken away at the whims of the government. They are rights that are possessed by the governed. And it is critically important that our government realize it and that our courts realize it. Our religious freedom is at the core of those rights.”

Jack Sheedy, a local attorney and president of the Fort Worth Chapter of Legatus, a group of Catholic CEOs and professional leaders, agreed. He said the mandate puts Catholic business owners in a unique predicament. They have to decide on either going against their moral and religious beliefs and falling in line with the new law or not complying with the government mandate, resulting in heavy fines and penalties. “It’s mind boggling,” Sheedy said. The Legatus national organization, headquartered in Ave Maria, Florida, is one of the organizations challenging the mandate with a lawsuit.

At the local level, the Fort Worth chapter recently invited Father Sammie Maletta, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in St. John, Indiana, to speak about the topic of religious freedom. Fr. Maletta, who studied Canon Law in Rome, has been vocal in his opposition to the HHS mandate.

Fr. Maletta reminded Catholic business leaders in Fort Worth of a message from Blessed John Paul II in his 1995 Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life), encyclical. The pope wrote:

we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the “culture of death” and the “culture of life.” We find ourselves not only “faced with” but necessarily “in the midst of” this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.

Like others standing firm against the HHS mandate, Fr. Maletta said we are at a critical point in the conflict, and people must make their feelings known to elected officials. “We should not try to accommodate the culture of death,” Fr. Maletta said.

Referencing Mark 12:17, which reads “So Jesus said to them, ‘Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,’” the priest asked, “Exactly what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God? Does the life of the unborn belong to Caesar or to God? Does the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman belong to Caesar or to God? Does religious liberty belong to Caesar or to God?”

Richard M. Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed similar sentiments recently. In a “Life Issues Forum” column, he penned a prophetic message on the religious freedom topic. He wrote:

Here we are not talking about the Church injecting itself into the political sphere. Rather, political forces have injected themselves into the lives of Catholics and Church organizations, substituting their own secular ideology for the Church’s values. Some will say the Church should leave politics alone and concentrate on teaching the Catechism and serving the needy — but what if a political initiative says the Church may not follow the Catechism, even in its own institutions? What if it says a Church agency may not serve needy people regardless of those people’s faith, because then it will not be “religious enough” to be exempt from a mandate to provide morally objectionable drugs and procedures? What if it says your neighbor, a devoted Catholic nurse, has no right to her livelihood because she will not help perform abortions? At that point we must resist, or we will have nowhere to go with our faith except the hidden recesses of our own minds. “Politics” of an especially intolerant kind will take over everything else.

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Dcn.-Hall-in-Chile-BUTTON.jpgDeacon Greg Hall prayed hard earlier this year before waging a costly legal battle over a federal law requiring his company to offer health insurance for abortion-causing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization. It was not the first time Dcn. Hall, a business owner from Cypress, Texas, has had to dig down deep in his soul and stand firm about his convictions, his company, and his Christian beliefs.

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