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The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) ordered the Saint Francis Health System in Oklahoma to extinguish two sanctuary candles because they are considered a safety issue.
One of the candles, a small sanctuary candle, has been burning for nearly 60 years. The second candle has been burning since 2008 at St. Francis Hospital.
Refusing to snuff out the candles puts the health system at risk of losing accreditation and all federal funding.
The loss would affect thousands of low-income, disabled, and elderly patients but the Catholic hospital system did not back down.
With assistance from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a First Amendment litigation group, the Saint Francis Health System stood up for its First Amendment rights.
“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,” stated a letter from the Becket group written by attorney Lori Windham on May 3.
Windham pointed out that the CMS’ demands violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The order requires the hospital to “hide its faith without a compelling government interest.”
The letter included a reminder to the administration of “devout” Catholic Joe Biden that wherever the Blessed Sacrament is present, a candle must be lit according to Catholic Canon Law.
The Code of Canon Law requires that wherever the Blessed Sacrament is kept, a special lamp must shine continuously. The living flame is so important to worship that the Fifth Chapter of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal expressly mandates that ‘a special lamp, fueled by oil or wax, should shine prominently to indicate the presence of Christ and honor it.’ Saint Francis believes that the laws governing the liturgy and chapel suitability have been divinely instituted by Jesus Christ Himself and that derogating from these laws is an affront to God.
“There has not been a day in Saint Francis history where the living flame has been extinguished,” the letter read.
“And Saint Francis’s religious identity and mission are intimately united with the living flame of the sanctuary candle.”
The Biden administration decided to reverse course and will allow the Catholic hospital system to keep its sanctuary candle aflame.
Windham announced the reversal in a tweet last Friday.
“The government has seen the light and has abandoned its attempt to force an Oklahoma hospital to blow out a small candle or stop serving elderly, disabled, and low-income patients. @HHSGov has told Saint Francis that it can keep its living flame — a sacred candle housed in the hospital chapels,” she wrote.
“The government knew it was playing with fire — today it announced its decision to allow the living flame so Saint Francis can continue to serve God and its community, as it always has,” the thread continued.
The CMS wrote a letter to the senior vice president of the St. Francis Health System explaining that the agency will provide the hospital with a waiver that will allow the candle to remain lit.
“This waiver is contingent upon the hospital providing a plan of correction to [The Joint Commission] that includes taking some simple, appropriate steps to mitigate fire risks,” the letter reads.
The hospital will have to provide “signage posted outside or in the chapel warning patients, visitors, and staff of keeping oxygen equipment” away from the flame or use a barrier around the sanctuary candle.