The following unsigned editorial is from the Oct. 17 issue of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.
There is an old proverb that says, “For better is half a loaf than no bread.”
That was the sentiment in mid-October for many after two Trump administration announcements, both related to religious liberty and government regulations that would require actions or practices from individuals or institutions that were “morally unacceptable.”
The first announcement, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, expanded the religious freedom exemptions to the department’s so-called “contraception mandate,” which were challenged in 2012 in federal court by the Archdiocese of Washington, among other religious institutions.
The second move came in a memo issued by the U.S. Department of Justice that laid out 20 legal principles all government agencies must consider when dealing with implementation of laws or regulations that might raise religious freedom concerns.
As many commentators noted, the two announcements were good for those who respect the important role religious freedom plays in our society. But in the end, that half loaf did not resolve the legal uncertainty of parties engaged in Zubik v. Burwell, the consolidated challenge to the so-called HHS mandate, which included more than 70 litigants, including the Archdiocese of Washington, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington and the Catholic University of America. That litigation stalled in May 2016, after the U.S. Supreme Court vacated earlier lower court rulings in those cases and encouraged the parties to resolve their differences through settlement.
On Oct. 13, however, the Department of Justice agreed to a settlement with some of the Zubik v. Burwell parties, closing the unfortunate chapter in a government’s effort to trample on long-standing, well-established religious freedoms and to coerce religious institutions into morally objectionable actions. The settlement effectively provides a full loaf for those who prize freedom to practice one’s faith while also fulfilling the heartfelt call to serve those most in need.
While the Trump administration’s executive order on religious liberty and new guidelines and regulations are extremely helpful, the settlement of the Zubik litigation adds a leavening of certainty moving forward. It removes doubt where it might otherwise exist as it closes those cases. The settlement adds additional assurances that we will not be subject to enforcement or imposition of similar regulations imposing such morally unacceptable mandates moving forward.
While those who find disfavor with the new guidelines and the settlement might note that all of this came to a denouement on Friday the 13th, we could not help but note that the date also fell on the 100th anniversary of the last appearance of Our Lady at Fatima. As Pope Francis noted, “In this centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, we thank God for the countless blessings we have received under her protection.”
We also thank, as well, all those entities willing to stand and defend our most fundamental freedom to practice our faith.
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