Testimony of  Most Reverend William E. Lori  Bishop of Bridgeport, on behalf of the  United States Conference of Catholic Bishops before the  Committee on Oversight and Government Reform  United States House of Representatives,  February 16, 2012   

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, for the  opportunity to testify today.  For my testimony today, I would like to tell a story. Let’s call it, “The  Parable of the Kosher Deli.” 

Once upon a time, a new law is proposed, so that any business that serves food  must serve pork. There is a narrow exception for kosher catering halls attached to  synagogues, since they serve mostly members of that synagogue, but kosher  delicatessens are still subject to the mandate.The Orthodox Jewish community—whose members run kosher delis and  many other restaurants and grocers besides—expresses its outrage at the new  government mandate.

And they are joined by others who have no problem eating  pork—not just the many Jews who eat pork, but people of all faiths—because these  others recognize the threat to the principle of religious liberty. They recognize as  well the practical impact of the damage to that principle. They know that, if the  mandate stands, they might be the next ones forced—under threat of severe government sanction—to violate their most deeply held beliefs, especially their  unpopular beliefs. 

Meanwhile, those who support the mandate respond, “But pork is good for  you. It is, after all, the other white meat.” Other supporters add, “So many Jews  eat pork, and those who don’t should just get with the times.” Still others say,  “Those Orthodox are just trying to impose their beliefs on everyone else.”  But in our hypothetical, those arguments fail in the public debate, because  people widely recognize the following. 

(Bishop William Lori)

 First, although people may reasonably debate whether pork is good for you,  that’s not the question posed by the nationwide pork mandate. Instead, the mandate  generates the question whether people who believe—even if they believe in  error—that pork is not good for you, should be forced by government to serve pork  within their very own institutions. In a nation committed to religious liberty and  diversity, the answer, of course, is no.  Second, the fact that some (or even most) Jews eat pork is simply irrelevant. 

The fact remains that some Jews do not—and they do not out of their most deeply  held religious convictions. Does the fact that large majorities in society—even  large majorities within the protesting religious community—reject a particular  religious belief make it permissible for the government to weigh in on one side of that dispute? Does it allow government to punish that minority belief with its  coercive power? In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the  answer, of course, is no.  Third, the charge that the Orthodox Jews are imposing their beliefs on others  has it exactly backwards.

Again, the question generated by a government mandate  is whether the government will impose its belief that eating pork is good on  objecting Orthodox Jews. Meanwhile, there is no imposition at all on the freedom  of those who want to eat pork. That is, they are subject to no government  interference at all in their choice to eat pork, and pork is ubiquitous and cheap,  available at the overwhelming majority of restaurants and grocers. Indeed, some  pork producers and retailers, and even the government itself, are so eager to promote  the eating of pork, that they sometimes give pork away for free. 

In this context, the question is this: can a customer come to a kosher deli, demand to be served a ham sandwich, and if refused, bring down severe government  sanction on the deli? In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no. 

So in our hypothetical story, because the hypothetical nation is indeed  committed to religious liberty and diversity, these arguments carry the day.  In response, those proposing the new law claim to hear and understand the  concerns of kosher deli owners, and offer them a new “accommodation.” You are  free to call yourself a kosher deli; you are free not to place ham sandwiches on your  menu; you are free not to be the person to prepare the sandwich and hand it over the  counter to the customer. But we will force your meat supplier to set up a kiosk on  your premises, and to offer, prepare, and serve ham sandwiches to all of your  customers, free of charge to them. And when you get your monthly bill from your  meat supplier, it will include the cost of any of the “free” ham sandwiches that your  customers may accept. And you will, of course, be required to pay that bill. 

Some who supported the deli owners initially began to celebrate the fact that  ham sandwiches didn’t need to be on the menu, and didn’t need to be prepared or  served by the deli itself. But on closer examination, they noticed three troubling  things. First, all kosher delis will still be forced to pay for the ham sandwiches.  Second, many of the kosher delis’ meat suppliers, themselves, are forbidden in  conscience from offering, preparing, or serving pork to anyone. Third, there are  many kosher delis that are their own meat supplier, so the mandate to offer, prepare,  and serve the ham sandwich still falls on them.

This story has a happy ending. The government recognized that it is absurd  for someone to come into a kosher deli and demand a ham sandwich; that it is beyond absurd for that private demand to be backed with the coercive power of the  state; that it is downright surreal to apply this coercive power when the customer can  get the same sandwich cheaply, or even free, just a few doors down. 

The question before the United States government—right now—is whether  the story of our own Church institutions that serve the public, and that are threatened  by the HHS mandate, will end happily too. Will our nation continue to be one  committed to religious liberty and diversity? We urge, in the strongest possible  terms, that the answer must be yes. We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to  answer the same way.  Thank you for your attention.   



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