April 2011 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Americans United has urged Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and other officials not to support a proposal that would turn over construction of a new Montgomery County medical facility to a group affiliated with the Catholic Church. Under the proposed deal, Holy Cross Hospital would lease 26 acres of public land and offer nursing training to students at the county’s community college. The deal would mean that residents served by the hospital won’t get certain services. Catholic hospitals operate under a series of strict directives promulgated by the U.S. Catholic bishops. They don’t offer birth control, “morning after” drugs for rape victims, sterilization operations and certain infertility treatments. Patients’ end-of-life directives may also be overridden if they conflict with church dogma. The county’s decision to enter into an arrangement with a Catholic hospital “would place coercive pressures” on county residents to use a medical facility that operates under sectarian directives, AU asserted in its letter. Wrote AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, “The courts have held unconstitutional governmental empowerment of a private religious program in a situation where pressure is placed upon attendees to participate in the program, or where the religious provider is given veto power over the kind of services that would be made available to the public.”