In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus speaks of the “Kingdom of Heaven” and what it will be like. He states that there will be consequences for people who don’t use their talents wisely and justly — putting them at the service of all people, especially to those who live on the margins of society.

For Christians, baptism incorporates a person into the Kingdom of Heaven once they’re baptized, but finds its fulfillment “when the Son of Man comes in Glory (Matthew 25:31).” By virtue of one’s baptism, whether they like it or not, Christians are missionaries, actively carrying out Christ’s command as detailed in Matthew 25.

In order for Christians to carry out this mission, a precondition is necessary so the mission can bear the maximum amount of fruit: a conscience that is free and not subject to coercion in any way.

This brings us to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that is part of the Affordable Care Act. A provision within the mandate suggests that unless an entity (for-profit or nonprofit, and especially one whose purpose is driven by faith) is primarily serving those who share their particular religious convictions, they are mandated by law to carry insurance policies or contract with another insurance company that provides products and services they deem morally objectionable.

This is an unprecedented overreach of the Federal Government and all Americans, religious or not, should be concerned.

This overreach affects everyone who serves the general public, but particularly limits Christians whose faith is directly tied to public action. Article 1 of the Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

For Christians, “the free exercise thereof” does not pertain simply to worship, but rather to publicly exercising religion (i.e. serving the poor, feeding the hungry, etc.).

The HHS mandate severely limits “the free exercise thereof” as people are not free to publicly exercise their religion because their moral conscience has been compromised.

In other words, in order for a company to function in the U.S., that company must provide, or contract with a third party, insurance that will cover morally objectionable products and services, and this serves to be a disincentive for that company to stay in business.

If the company does not acquiesce to the government demands, they are subject to astronomical fines. Is this really necessary?

Traditionally in the U.S., and most other areas around the globe, it is Christian missionaries who take care of the poor, the marginalized and the downtrodden. Jesus didn’t tell us to just serve Christians, he calls us to serve all people.

With the HHS mandate in place, it is not only people of conscience who will be affected, but also the marginalized people they serve.

FATHER CHRIS DOWNEY serves the parishioners of Holy Family Catholic Church in Copperas Cove.

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