Dear Mr. President, 

On Jan. 20, you will officially begin your second term as president of the United States. You were first elected in 2008 at a time of grave fiscal crisis in this country. That crisis, and its legacy, in many ways defined your presidency in your first term.

We will leave it to history to judge the decisions you made in that first term, but we want to voice our concern that a different legacy may haunt your second term.

We recall that when you were elected, you had promised to bring a divided nation together. In your first inaugural address, you said: “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.” Later that year, you spoke at the University of Notre Dame, addressing some of the issues that divide us, most specifically abortion. You said: “Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics …” 

Despite your initial rhetoric, however, we have seen steps taken by your administration that have aroused our concerns about freedom of conscience and religious liberty, and about the desire for “unity of purpose over conflict and discord.” There have been numerous decisions by your administration to weigh in on some of the most divisive and conflicted social issues of the day, particularly regarding abortion, religious liberty and freedom of conscience.  

Most disturbing has been the decision of your own Department of Health and Human Services to establish rules forcing both for-profit and not-for-profit companies and organizations to violate their consciences and provide funding for contraceptive services, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. This mandate, which has to date not been tempered or moderated by your administration, despite your assurances, would force organizations — including our own — to violate the teachings of our Church or risk outrageously punitive monetary fines many times the cost of simply not providing health care benefits to our employees at all.

Worse still, your administration is imposing a fourfold test to determine if a nonprofit organization is sufficiently religious to warrant protection from this mandate, demanding that it primarily hire and serve members of its own faith. This onerous requirement would impact Catholic colleges, charities, hospitals and companies like Our Sunday Visitor. It makes the government the arbiter of what is sufficiently religious, a position we believe is not only a violation of the First Amendment but a precedent that threatens all religious institutions if not reversed by either legislative or judicial action.  

Our concerns for religious liberty go beyond this one mandate, but it is the most far-reaching and potentially devastating of such violations to date. It threatens to become a divisive and polarizing legacy of your second term. 

We hope that in your second term you will take concrete steps to choose “unity of purpose over conflict and discord,” but we also promise you that we will not and we cannot abandon this struggle. As you yourself said in Stockholm in 2009, “We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend.” This unnecessary fight, this terrible over-reaching by HHS, this relentless assault on our conscience and our ideals diminishes your administration and divides us even more. We pray that as your second term begins, you will do what is right and rescind this mandate. 

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor