A Catholic hospital is celebrating a First Amendment victory after the Biden administration backed off a threat to close it down over a candle flame in its chapel.
The St. Francis Hospital system in Oklahoma was threatened with losing its Medicaid and Medicare accreditation because it kept an “eternal flame” lit in its chapel, Fox News reports.
Surveyors from the Joint Commission, which accredits Medicaid and Medicare hospitals, have been aggressively going after Catholic hospitals to force them to put out these candles, calling it a safety violation, reports the Washington Examiner.
But while other hospitals have caved into the pressure from the Biden administration, Saint Francis Hospital chose to fight.
“If we go to court, you will lose,” the hospital’s counsel told Biden Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a letter. “I write in the hope that you will see reason (or at least the law) and we can skip to the easy part.”
“[Y]ou put not just Saint Francis Health System in peril but the entire State of Oklahoma and any person in need of Saint Francis Health System’s preeminent care, all because Saint Francis maintains a single, enclosed, and reverently kept eternal flame in its chapels,” the letter continued. “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.”
The Saint Francis Health System has five hospitals in eastern Oklahoma that treat almost 400,000 patients per year and has provided over $650 million in free medical care over the last five years, said the Catholic News Agency (CNA).
But in addition to writing letters, the Catholic hospital also enlisted the services of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm, which defends freedom of religion.
“It was shocking,” Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel at Becket told Fox News. “I’ve been doing religious liberty work for a long time, and I was shocked. It’s one thing to say you have a candle here, let’s work on it. It’s another thing to say that the people who need care won’t be able to get it because you have a living flame in your sanctuary.”
The Biden administration agreed to give the hospital a waiver, provided that it keeps oxygen away from the open flame – an open flame that is surrounded by glass, 6 feet off the floor, and enclosed in chapel walls, reports CNA.
The Washington Examiner, however, said that perhaps the Biden administration is not done harassing the hospital.
The waiver terms are subject to change and “appear to have been written both begrudgingly and through gritted teeth, the terms of a party determined to flex its authority even in retreat,” said the Examiner.