Denver, Colo., Jan 29, 2015 / 04:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal court has permanently barred the Obama administration from enforcing the federal contraception mandate against the group of Evangelical-owned senior citizen and assisted living centers.

“All Americans should oppose unjust laws that allow the government to force people to surrender their constitutionally protected freedom to live and work according to their deepest beliefs,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Michael J. Norton said Jan. 27.

Norton’s legal group filed the challenge to the federal rule on behalf of Stephen W. Brisco, who owns several Colorado companies that operate senior citizen residences, assisted living centers, and skilled nursing facilities and related businesses that mange them.

Brisco, an Evangelical Christian, objected to federal mandates that he provide employees with insurance coverage for contraceptive drugs that can cause abortions.

Refusal to provide the coverage would have resulted in heavy fines.

Norton said that Americans have a “clearly protected right” to be “free from this type of government coercion at home, in their family businesses, and in non-profit endeavors that benefit everyone.”

On Jan. 27 a U.S. District Court for Colorado issued a permanent injunction against the federal government from enforcing the mandate. It cited the Supreme Court’s June 2014 ruling that the mandate’s application to closely-held private companies like Hobby Lobby violated the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Supreme Court had said the government had not shown that the mandate was the least restrictive means of achieving its goal of providing free contraceptives to employees.

The Obama administration announced the controversial mandate in 2012. It requires employers to cover sterilization, contraception and some drugs that can cause abortions. Its narrow exemption for those with religious and moral objections to the coverage drew much criticism and prompted many legal challenges.

Norton said the Obama administration should give up what he described as “its blind and indefensible efforts to punish people of faith.”

Denver, Colo., Jan 29, 2015 / 04:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Disneyland is supposed to be the Happiest Place on Earth, not the place where you contract a highly contagious, once-eradicated disease.

Unfortunately, that is what happened at Disneyland in California, starting back in December. The measles virus, likely carried by a tourist from a foreign country, started a chain of infections that has now reached at least 87 people in seven states and Mexico. The outbreak has also resurfaced arguments surrounding the vaccination of children.

At least 73 of the reported cases are in California, a state with large pockets of people opposed to vaccination. Some places in southern California reach unvaccinated rates of double digits, sometimes tripling the state and national averages, which are around 3 and 5 percent respectively.

Dr. Paul Cieslak is a Catholic parent of six who has overseen the Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention section in the Public Health Division of the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) since 1995. He is also a member of the Catholic Medical Association, an organization committed to upholding the teachings of the Catholic Church while advancing the profession of medicine.

According to Dr. Cieslak, opposition to vaccines largely comes from misinformation regarding side effects.

“It is true that occasionally you can get a nasty side effect from a vaccine, as from any medicine,” he told CNA. “That said, the vaccines are very safe, tens or hundreds of millions of doses of this thing have been given with very little problem.”

Others who oppose vaccines fall into the category of religious or conscientious objectors. Many who oppose vaccines on religious grounds do so because the cell lines of some vaccines were developed from cells of aborted fetuses.

Dr. Marie T. Hilliard is a canon lawyer and the Director of Bioethics and Public Policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), a non-profit research and educational institute committed to applying the moral teachings of the Catholic Church to ethical issues arising in health care and the life sciences.

The NCBC, along with the Pontifical Academy for Life -- a Vatican body established to provide information about issues in law and biomedicine -- have studied the moral issues surrounding vaccines and have determined that it is morally licit, and even morally responsible, for Catholics to use even those vaccines developed from aborted fetus cells.

“There’s a whole formula for examining these dilemmas in terms of what we call cooperation in evil, and there are certain things that are always wrong, and there are certain things that are tolerable,” Dr. Hilliard told CNA.

The Pontifical Academy for Life determined that the good of public health outweighs the distanced cooperation in the evil of the abortions performed in the 1960s from which the cell lines were developed. No new abortions have been performed to maintain these vaccines, and no cells from the victims of the abortions are contained in the vaccines.

Currently the vaccine lines for rubella, chicken pox, and hepatitis A are the remaining vaccines that have been developed from aborted fetal cells and for which there is no alternative available.  

“One is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion,” reads a document from the NCBC based on the findings from the Pontifical Academy for Life. “The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”

Those particularly susceptible to disease who can benefit from “herd immunity” (when the majority of a population is vaccinated) include children too young to be fully vaccinated, pregnant women, and those with suppressed immunity such as cancer patients.

The document goes on to say that Catholics should express their opposition to vaccines developed from aborted cells, and that there is an obligation to use alternative vaccines, should they exist.

Dr. Cieslak said he has vaccinated his children and encourages his patients to do so as well.

“As a parent, I don’t want my kids to get sick, I want them to feel confident when they go into school or crowds or other settings that they don’t have to fear whatever disease,” he said. “As a doctor and especially as a public health guy, I like to see the disease rates go down, I like to see the population healthier, I like to see less money being spent on treating diseases that are preventable.”

Still, Dr. Cieslak believes that people should be allowed the freedom to refuse vaccines if they yet cannot reconcile them with their consciences.

“I think we are not cooperating in the evil of abortion by vaccinating our kids because we had nothing to do with the original abortions, that’s a done deed,” he said. “But still I know parental consciences are bothered by this and I think some rightfully so, and so I think we need to respect that.”

Barbara Loe Fischer, Co-Founder and President of the National Vaccine Information Center, believes all parents should have the right to informed consent and should be allowed to determine which vaccines, if any, are right for their children.

“Informed consent means that you have the right to be fully informed about the benefits and the risks of medical intervention, and be able to exercise voluntary decision making, you’re able to make a voluntary decision without being coerced or harassed or punished for the decision you make,” Fisher told CNA.

“It’s an ethical principal, it’s a human right, and that means it should apply to vaccines as well.”

Fischer said she is concerned about the “blame and shame” being poured out on the unvaccinated in the wake of the recent measles outbreak, and encourages parents to read the product manufacturer inserts of vaccines as well as medical literature and information available on sites such as the CDC’s website.

“I think that when people are judging the quality of information, they only need to look at it and see are the statements backed up?” she said. “And if they’re backed up with good resources, then they can take that more seriously.”

While the new measles cases are cause for concern, the outbreak isn’t nearly as bad as it could be, and that is thanks to vaccinations, Dr. Cieslak said.

“The fact that it doesn’t spread to everybody is a testimony to the fact that most of them are immune, and most of them got that way through vaccinations,” he said. “And when we have seen transmission of multiple cases, it’s been largely among unvaccinated people.”

“As a Catholic I would argue that it’s a socially conscious thing to do,” Dr. Cieslak said. “It’s not only good for you, it’s good for your fellow man.”

Frequently asked questions about vaccines from a moral standpoint can be found on the National Catholic Bioethic’s Center website at:

The Pontifical Academy for Life’s statement on vaccines can be found at:

Washington D.C., Jan 28, 2015 / 06:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics must be “merciful teachers” in eliciting the best from everyone around them, said a prominent Dominican preacher on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas.

“Our call, religious, ordained, and laity alike, is to be 'merciful teachers who wake up the world',” the Very Rev. Ken Letoile, O.P., told Mass attendants at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. He cited Pope Francis' call for the consecrated religious to “wake up the world.”

“It should not be surprising that St. Thomas thinks teaching is a profound spiritual work of mercy: 'Instructing the ignorant',” Fr. Letoile added. Former students revere their exceptional teachers precisely because “they demanded the most of us, as they called forth from us – the root meaning of the word 'educate ' – they called forth our best work.”

“They formed us in the truth. They were merciful to us, because we are made to know the truth and to rejoice in it. We are not meant to be ignorant.”

Fr. Letoile is the prior provincial for the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, the eastern quarter of the four Dominican U.S. provinces. He preached at the annual Mass of St. Thomas Aquinas at the National Shrine on Jan. 28.

Fr. Letoile was joined by over 50 concelebrants from the neighboring Catholic University of America, Dominican House of Studies, and other seminaries and consecrated religious houses of studies.

The Mass was co-sponsored by Catholic University, the Dominican House of Studies, and the National Catholic Educational Association. It heralded the new academic semester and celebrated Catholic Schools Week. St. Thomas is also the patron saint of Catholic schools.

“One of my revered Dominican teachers once told us that before he entered the classroom he would pray for grace he needed to love the students he was about to teach,” Fr. Letoile shared. “In the words of today's first reading, 'I pleaded and the spirit of wisdom came to me.' That's the humility that is key to our call to be merciful teachers.”

St. Thomas was transformed by “merciful teaching,” Fr. Letoile added.

Thomas' teacher, St. Albert the Great, “saw in his shy student what none of Aquinas' other teachers and none of his classmates could see: a gifted genius in love with the Lord, who would, one day, teach the world about the mysteries of the Christian faith.”

Speaking at the end of Mass, Catholic University president John Garvey said the academic vocation is ultimately about God and not an egotistical pursuit of knowledge.

“Thomas' example shows that the academic vocation is not a game. It's not something we win by racking up the highest GPA or making the most clever arguments,” Garvey stated.

“For St. Thomas the goal of studying theology was to acquire the knowledge we need to direct our lives toward God, the final goal.” When students do not live what they study, he added, “our studies can be like conversations in an echo chamber. The reverberations build and build until the sound is unintelligible.”

National Catholic Schools Week begins every last Sunday of January and continues through the week. It “is the annual celebration of Catholic education in the U.S.,” according to the National Catholic Education Association.