My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we celebrate Memorial Day, we remember its origins from a time of reconciliation after the Civil War to a time now when we can remember our war dead. Also, we remember our civil responsibility to be peacemakers in our country and in our world today.
Unfortunately, currently our service men and women are giving their service in the Middle East and many other difficult situations in the world; South Korea, and some hot spots in Africa, to name a few which demand the presence of the United States military, not as an international policing force, but rather as an international bringer of peace to the world. We cannot shrug our responsibility gained over the more than two centuries of our existence. Our nation based on law and principles must uphold these moral principles. It is not only to further United States interests that we protect others. Rather, it is because we have a responsibility to others given to us by God.
As we come to this Memorial Day, we recognize the situation of the new administration in Washington, D.C. Having completed over 100 days, we wonder what the next 100 will bring. Some very important issues already have been addressed. One that touches us deeply is the presidential Executive Order on religious freedom. We realize that Executive Orders have a limited lifespan according to the sitting administration; however, they do indicate a mindset that comes from the chief executive in administrating the laws of our Nation.
Two major issues were addressed in this Executive Order entitled, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” The issue of free speech seems to center around the Johnson Amendment, which banned tax exempt organizations such as churches from political speech and activities in favor of a particular political candidate. While the Catholic Church does not reject this freedom, we recognize that our main responsibility is to form the consciences of our people and leave it to their freedom to vote for the candidate of their choice, based on clearly annunciated moral issues. It is not always easy to discern which individual candidate is more in line with our moral conscience. Endorsing one candidate over another has proven disastrous for some churches in the past. I do not believe that we will exercise that new-found freedom in the future.
The issues regarding religious liberty, however, are much more salient and important to us. The Affordable Care Act contained certain mandates in its regulations that forced corporations, especially religious corporations, to provide female employees with no-cost access to contraception, sterilization and even abortion, depending on the insurance policies and the responsibility of the insurers. This also varied from state-to-state. We know that two cases went all the way to our Supreme Court – the Hobby Lobby case which involved a private employer, and the Little Sisters of the Poor case which involved the a nursing home. The Sisters object to following this regulation of Obama Care. It is too early to tell how the regulations of Obama Care will be changed, or if a new law is passed, what the regulations will be. There is some clear direction, however, from President Trump on this matter.
Religious Liberty is not just a matter of freedom to worship. It is also a freedom of conscience and all of its ramifications in participating in the civil life of a nation. It is a right very much in need of protection.
It is worth commenting on the position of the Church on the Affordable Care Act and its possible revisions. The Bishops of the United States through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops were supportive of the original bill which became known as Obama Care, which favored coverage of almost 20 million indigent people in need, in addition to an expansion of Medicaid to an almost additional 20 million people.
Unfortunately, this still leaves many uncovered individuals in our country, but this was a move in the right direction. However, it is becoming clearer that the exchanges established by private insurance companies under the act have shrunk in their ability to cover individuals because of the high cost. On the other hand, Congress is intent on reducing the money spent on Medicaid, which is another way to provide healthcare to low-income individuals.
In my view, the problem is not just the Affordable Care Act or its successor, but it is the way healthcare is delivered in our country. When the Blue Cross organizations began to grow around our country, they were community-based efforts at providing insurance to families. These early Blue Cross organizations were all non-profit. They provided insurance coverage without the profit motive and were rather successful. Over time, however, they became private insurers with a profit motive, and we also saw the growth of many other profit-oriented insurers. It is rather difficult to accomplish two things – making a profit and providing affordable heath care to our population.
We either have to go back to non-profit organizations that are established for the particular purpose of providing healthcare, or take away incentives from these now mega insurance companies to make an excessive profit at the cost of not covering those most in need.
Health care is a basic human right. We cannot make the availability of heath care subject to profitability. The same can be said of other basic human necessities, such as food and housing. It seems, however, that the market place can control these other basic human necessities, whereas heath care now is becoming unaffordable and may be unaffordable to many more people in the future.
There is no easy solution to this quandary. Some basic rethinking about how health care is provided whereby physicians and hospitals can also take part, not simply as providers but also as participants in the design or provisions. Some experiments have been successful. However, on a large scale, this has not been possible.
As we return to the topic of Memorial Day, we recognize the purpose of military protection of human freedom. Hopefully, we can learn how we can protect all basic human freedoms and rights, not by war but rather by peaceful means.
We recognize that we pray for our war dead who put out into the deep with the greatest of sacrifice for their country. The Bishops of the Diocese of Brooklyn will be present in all of our cemeteries for the Memorial Day Field Masses. Please check the advertising in The Tablet (See Page 36) for the locations and times.
Enjoy this holiday weekend that begins our summer.