ROME (CNS) — On the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Obama administration’s health care law, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore warned an audience in Rome about what he characterized as the law’s threat to religious freedom.

The archbishop, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom, addressed a group called the Observatory on Religious Liberty, recently established by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the city of Rome.

Archbishop Lori, who spoke several hours before the announcement of the court’s decision, singled out the health care law’s planned “HHS mandate,” which would require the private health insurance plans of most Catholic institutions to cover surgical sterilization procedures and artificial birth control, in violation of the church’s moral doctrines.

“Embedded in the HHS mandate is an extremely narrow definition of religion put there as a litmus test to determine which religious organizations are religious enough — by the government’s definition — to deserve an exemption from providing services contrary to their teachings,” he said.


The archbishop described the administration’s effort in this case as part of a broader trend.

“Unless we stop it now, this narrow, governmental definition of what a church is will likely spread throughout our nation’s laws and policies,” he said.

“Something fundamental is being lost in American culture and law,” he said. “And this loss of freedom does not and will not serve the common good of our nation or other nations where bloody religious persecutions are under way.”

Archbishop Lori also told the group about the U.S. bishops’ “fortnight for freedom” campaign, a two-week period of prayer, education and action, which will end in Washington July 4 with Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

In response to a reporter’s question after his speech, the archbishop dismissed suggestions that the U.S. bishops’ campaign amounts to an inappropriate intrusion by religious leaders in election-year politics. He stressed that the bishops have long supported universal health care, as long as it provides for conscientious objection and does not spend federal money for abortions.

“We did everything we could well in advance of this election to head off this train wreck,” he said. “We didn’t choose the timing, we didn’t choose the fight. It happens to occur in an election year, and just because it’s happening in an election year imposes no responsibility on us to remain silent.”

Archbishop Lori was in Rome to receive the pallium, a lamb’s wool stole that symbolize his leadership of an archdiocese, from Pope Benedict XVI at a June 29 ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica.