CV NEWS FEED // The Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an ultimatum to a top-rated Catholic hospital network in Oklahoma, threatening to shut down their services to poor and vulnerable patients unless they remove the sanctuary candle from their chapel.
Saint Francis Hospital South in Tulsa, OK, has kept the candle in question for fifteen consecutive years. The non-profit Saint Francis Health System, which runs the hospital, has kept the tradition of hospital chapels, complete with active sanctuary candles, since they were established in 1960. The network also operates the nearby St. Francis Hospital, which is the largest hospital in the state of Oklahoma.
Now, Saint Francis Hospital South, which serves much of the southeastern Tulsa area, is faced with losing accreditation to serve recipients of Medicare, Medicaid, or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), if the Catholic organization does not comply with the administration’s demand.
Religious liberty attorney Lori Windham of Becket Law wrote a pre-litigation letter addressed to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and several of his deputies and employees. In the letter, Windham states that by refusing to accredit the hospital, the administration would be effectively stripping the many disabled, elderly, and impoverished patients who currently rely on the hospital of critical life-saving healthcare.
In twenty-five days, you will cripple the operations of the premiere hospitals in the State of Oklahoma, simply because they keep a candle in hospital chapels. If you refuse to accredit Saint Francis Hospital South, it will result in such unreasonable financial losses to the Saint Francis Health System that it would abruptly and immediately jeopardize its services to the elderly, disabled, and low-income patients who rely on Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Becerra is a self-described “committed Catholic.”
Windham continues to describe the significance of the candle and the fact that sanctuary candles have been used in Oklahoma Catholic hospitals for well over a half-century without threats from government entities.
You have threatened to deny accreditation because Saint Francis keeps a candle— an eternal flame—in its hospital sanctuary. For 15 years, that flame has burned without problem or concern in Saint Francis Hospital South in Tulsa; and for 63 years, the eternal flame has burned at Saint Francis Hospital Yale Campus, the largest hospital in the state of Oklahoma, without problem or concern. From the moment Saint Francis opened its doors in 1960, this flame has been maintained without interruption.
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.
In her letter to Becerra, Windham goes on to describe how the directive would hinder the rights of patients, their loved ones, and hospital staff to fully and freely practice their faith by setting up a conflict with Canon Law. “The Code of Canon Law requires that wherever the Blessed Sacrament is kept, a special lamp must shine continuously,” she writes. Therefore, if the candle is to be removed, in order to comply with Church doctrine, the Blessed Sacrament must be as well.
In a series of tweets posted Wednesday morning, Windham said that the federal government denied Saint Francis’ request for a waiver on four occasions. The hospital network has partnered with Becket, as well as the Houston-based trial law firm Yetter Coleman LLP, and plans to make a defense asserting their constitutional rights to keep the candle burning bright.
“The government has a simple choice,” Windham wrote. They can either “stop this attack on Saint Francis’ faith or expect a legal firestorm.”