Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has criticized a Denver city councilwoman for withdrawing a proclamation that praised a Catholic-run company, after she learned that the owners filed a religious freedom lawsuit against the federal government.
“Choosing to marginalize the owners of Hercules for their religiosity is an insult to the founding values of our nation,” the Denver archbishop said in an Aug. 23 opinion piece in the Denver Post.
“When religious people are marginalized from the public square all of us lose,” he said. “Religious values (like those of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example) have served as forces for great public good in America. Public shame of the religiously convicted undermines the American ideal.”
His comments come in response to the actions of Denver City Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who had initially intended to recognized the Denver-based HVAC manufacturer Hercules Industries’ 50th anniversary.
The business’ Catholic owners are suing the Obama administration over a Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring employers to provide no co-pay insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs. They say the mandate violates their religious freedom.
A federal court has granted the company an injunction against the mandate until the case is resolved.
Kniech withdrew the proposed proclamation before its passage, saying she hoped to avoid a “partisan food fight” in an election year.
Archbishop Aquila said the resolution’s withdrawal is “unsurprising” but “disappointing.”
“By all appearances, Kniech discovered that Hercules had religious convictions, and she sought distance,” he said.
He said that the company’s religious values compel it to offer “generous health care coverage and benefits” and to support its unionized workforce.
“The same religious values compel them to protect their right to a clear conscience -- to observe the norms of religious morality in their public life,” he wrote.
While the Archbishop Aquila said that governments can legitimately protect the public when religious conscience threatens “essential human freedom or dignity,” he rejected any contention that the mandate is in this category.
He also noted that there are “increasing threats” to religious institutions and practices, citing a recent report that showed an increase in hostility to religion.
“The HHS mandate is designed to fund private sexual expression -- and even abortion -- from the coffers of American businesses,” he charged. “Trading free access to contraception for our foundational reverence for religious liberty is a betrayal of our history -- and a short-sighted plan for America.”
In response to Kniech’s decision to withdraw the commendation for Hercules Industries, Colorado House Speaker Frank McNulty issued a commendation for the company on behalf of the Colorado House of Representatives. The Denver Post also editorialized against the councilwoman’s action.
Archbishop Aquila said Speaker McNulty “rightly commended” the company.
“I pray the Denver City Council will do the same,” he said.