TULSA, Oklahoma (LifeSiteNews) — President Joe Biden’s administration wants to snuff out the light of the faith – literally.
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) demanded that Saint Francis Health System in Oklahoma extinguish two candles – a small sanctuary candle that has burned since 1960 and another that has burned without problem for 15 years at another Saint Francis hospital.
If they don’t, the system will lose accreditation and all federal funding, jeopardizing healthcare for thousands of low-income, disabled, and elderly citizens. Yet, no other inspector in the healthcare system’s history has ever identified the small candle as a safety issue.
The Catholic hospital system is fighting back with the help of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, an accomplished First Amendment litigation group.
“In requiring Saint Francis to extinguish its flame, you are trying to extinguish not just a candle, but the First Amendment rights of Saint Francis Health System, as well as vital healthcare for the elderly, poor, and disabled in Oklahoma,” a May 3 legal letter from the group, written by Senior Counsel Lori Windham, stated.
Windham noted that the administration’s actions violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by requiring the hospital to hide its faith without a compelling government interest. The religious liberty group reminded the administration of professed Catholic President Joe Biden that Catholic Canon Law requires that a candle be lit wherever there is the Blessed Sacrament.
The Code of Canon Law requires that wherever the Blessed Sacrament is kept, a special lamp must shine continuously. The living flame is so important to worship that the Fifth Chapter of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal expressly mandates that ‘a special lamp, fueled by oil or wax, should shine prominently to indicate the presence of Christ and honor it.’ Saint Francis believes that the laws governing the liturgy and chapel suitability have been divinely instituted by Jesus Christ Himself and that derogating from
these laws is an affront to God.
“There has not been a day in Saint Francis history where the living flame has been extinguished,” the group wrote. “And Saint Francis’s religious identity and mission are intimately united with the living flame of the sanctuary candle.”
The letter further noted that the candle is securely kept in the chapel and there are ample sprinklers around to cope with the unlikely possibility of the flame escaping. A fire marshal has already approved the flame in annual inspections and CMS’s own guidelines clearly allow for flames for religious purposes and primarily prohibit them in proximity to medical equipment.
Furthermore, the surveyor with the federal government incorrectly called the enclosed candle an “open flame.” When challenged, the bureaucrat changed his tune and said that lighter briefly used to light the candle is an “open flame” and violates federal safety standards.
Becket noted that the group has won six separate Supreme Court cases, including defeating the Obama administration’s birth control mandate on Hobby Lobby and other religious businesses as well as twice successfully representing the Little Sisters of the Poor. The second time included a defeat of efforts by leftist attorney generals such as Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro and California’s Xavier Becerra to violate the nuns’ religious liberty. Becerra now runs Health and Human Services, which includes CMS.
RFRA, the federal religious freedom law, states that government actors can only violate someone’s religious beliefs if there is a “compelling government interest” and their methods are the “least restrictive means” available.
But there are other flames permitted by CMS, which undermines its claim that snuffing out the sanctuary candle is the “least restrictive” way to ensure fire safety.
“There are over a dozen prudently managed flames around the hospital: from flames in the kitchen (pilot lights for stoves and ovens), to gas dryers in the laundry room, to flames in gas water heaters, to welding for electrical and construction purposes,” the letter noted. “Yet the government permits these flames, used for secular reasons, while prohibiting flames in a chapel, used for religious reasons.”
Furthermore, CMS officials have refused to work with Saint Francis on other solutions. “It could ask that Saint Francis add additional shielding, or inspect the flame to confirm it is nowhere near oxygen equipment,” the attorney wrote. “It could accept Saint Francis’s proposal to add tile on the wall and floor around the candle. The fact that the government hasn’t even entertained such alternatives shows that it has not and cannot demonstrate that it is using the least restrictive means for furthering its interest in fire safety.”
The letter said that if the administration does not back off it can expect to lose a lawsuit.
CMS threat continues Biden admin’s long war against faithful Christians
This is only the latest action the Biden administration has taken against people of faith. For example, his administration tried to force Catholic and other religious healthcare institutions to violate their religious freedoms and provide “sex change operations” to gender-confused kids.
His politicized Department of Justice has also conducted armed raids on pro-life Catholic fathers for alleged violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. So far one of those charges against Mark Houck has already been dismissed by a federal court.
In October 2022, the FBI raided the home of pro-life advocate Paul Vaughn in front of his children and arrested him, charging him with “conspiracy against rights secured by the FACE Act, and committing FACE Act violations,” as previously reported by LifeSiteNews.
More recently, the FBI’s Richmond field office, in a memo signed off on by its top attorney, released an intelligence report which labeled traditional Catholics who like the Latin Mass or express skepticism about the benefits of the Second Vatican Council as “radical traditionalist Catholic[s).”
The FBI withdrew the memo after backlash. The intelligence product relied on questionable sources, including the disgraced leftist Southern Poverty Law Center and an Atlantic article that fretted about Rosary prayer beads being a symbol of extremists.