HHS told to right a wrong or lose in court

HHS told to right a wrong or lose in court

Photo provided by Becket

HHS told to right a wrong or lose in court

An attorney for a Catholic hospital that's been told to extinguish its sanctuary candle says the federal government is "definitely" in the wrong.

After an inspection in February, Oklahoma's Saint Francis Health System, the nation's 12th largest hospital, was told by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to blow out its sanctuary candle or lose its ability to serve those who rely on Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

While caring for its estimated 400,000 patients each year, Saint Francis lives out its religious mission by maintaining multiple chapels throughout its hospitals, each of which has been blessed by the local bishop. And since opening its doors in 1960, the health system has had a sanctuary candle with a living flame as an act of worship.

Windham, Lori (Becket) Windham

"We have sent a letter asking HHS to change its position and allow Saint Francis to continue to have its living flame and continue to live out its faith in that way," reports attorney Lori Windham of Becket, the law firm representing the hospital.

"We have warned HHS that they are in violation of the law if they try to penalize Saint Francis for this," she continues. "If we have to take them to court, they will definitely lose. So, we are giving them a chance to change their mind, do the right thing, and we hope we don't have to go to court over this."

Windham adds the candle has been an everyday thing, one that has been approved by the fire marshal.

"The living flame is a sanctuary candle that is always kept lit," she details. "It's kept inside of two glass holders, with a brass cover on top, inside the hospital chapel. It's not near any patient rooms or medical equipment or anything like that. It has been in place for many years, and there has never previously been a problem with it."

The flame's brass basin (pictured above) is affixed to a wall and has many sprinkler heads above it. For Catholics, the living flame is a sign of the living presence of Jesus. So the hospital workers are being asked to choose between serving those in need and worshipping God in the chapel.

With only 25 days before this order kicks in, Windham says time is of the essence. If the HHS does not respond quickly, "then we will be going to court."