A disagreement has erupted between Oklahoma’s Saint Francis Health System and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), as CMS insists that the health system must extinguish the sanctuary candle in its chapel to maintain its ability to serve Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP patients.

The sanctuary candle plays a crucial role in Catholic worship, with the Code of Canon Law requiring its constant presence wherever the Blessed Sacrament is housed.

Religious liberty organization Becket Law has intervened, demanding a reversal of the decision to prevent a possible lawsuit based on religious exercise.

Lori Windham from Becket Law emphasizes that the chapel and its worship are essential to Saint Francis’s identity and mission. Although the local fire marshal has previously approved the candle, HHS is now challenging its presence for the first time.

The conflict initially surfaced during the hospital’s accreditation process with the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals to treat Medicaid, Medicare, and Children’s Health Insurance Program patients. Saint Francis sought a reasonable accommodation after failing to resolve the accreditor’s concerns, but CMS denied the request.

Becket asserts that the situation constitutes a breach of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as the federal government is substantially burdening religious exercise without a valid justification.

The organization highlights that other flames are permitted within the hospital and that no concerns have been raised before now. Becket further argues that the government has not pursued the least restrictive action against Saint Francis, such as additional shielding or inspections.

As HHS collaborates with the hospital’s accrediting organization to devise solutions, Becket says they stands ready to pursue legal action if necessary.

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