OAN Roy Francis
11:42 AM – Thursday, May 4, 2023
Saint Francis Health System, located in Tulsa Oklahoma, was told that its solitary candle in the chapel of Saint Francis Hospital South was a safety hazard, and unless it is extinguished, it would lose its eligibility to accept Medicaid, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Since Saint Francis first began operations in 1960, all of its hospitals’ chapels have had a sanctuary with what is referred to as a “living flame” as a sign of the presence of Jesus Christ.
The Saint Francis health System operates five hospitals in Oklahoma and employs approximately 11,00 personnel, with around 400,000 patients annually, and more than $650 million in free medical care in the past five years alone.
The letter addressed to the hospital system said that the law “requires flames be placed in a substantial candle holder and supervised at all times they are lighted.”
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty along with the Yetter Coleman LLP law firm sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding the demand from the Joint Commission, an independent organization whose findings are used for Medicare and Medicaid certifications for hospitals, to extinguish the candle.
The pre-litigation letter stated that the demand must be reversed or they will file a lawsuit based on religious-exercise grounds, adding that the candle is a requirement under the Code of Canon Law.
“The Code of Canon Law requires that wherever the Blessed Sacrament is kept, a special lamp must shine continuously,” the letter said, expressing that the chapel and worship that happens within it are “incredibly important to Saint Francis’s identity and mission.”
The hospital appealed the demand four different times in regards to the candle, but were denied each time. The Becket Fund noted that the demand is “absurd and unlawful” and that the candle should not be an issue since other similar flames in the buildings, such as pilot lights, and similar ones in gas stove heaters, were not a problem.
Becket Vice President and Senior Counsel Lori Windham said that the government has to “either stop this attack…or expect a legal firestorm.”
“The government’s demand is absurd and unlawful — it is targeting Saint Francis’s sincere beliefs without any good reason,” she said in a statement to Fox News. “The government has a simple choice: either stop this attack on Saint Francis’s faith or expect a legal firestorm.”
“They’ve had their living flame burning for many years without a problem so we’re not sure why it’s being cited now. This is a sanctuary candle that has been lit with the living flame for many years,” Windham added. “They’ve taken many steps to make sure it’s safe … this is not a danger to anyone, this is just an expression of faith.”
In the letter, the Becket Fund said that the ultimatum violated federal law and threatens to “cripple the operations of the premiere hospitals in the State of Oklahoma, simply because they keep a candle in hospital chapels.”
The Becket Fund went to urge the government to not pursue the matter of the sacred candle, which is “encased in glass, covered with brass and located near sprinklers far away from medical equipment.”
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Saint Francis, Barry Steichen, told Fox News that the candle “indicates a space of hope … Our work depends upon our faith in the living God, and the sanctuary candle represents this to us.”
“Over 60 years ago, Saint Francis was founded by William K. and Natalie Warren as an act of gratitude and service to God and to the people of Oklahoma,” Steichen said. “The cornerstone of Saint Francis is love for God and man. To this day, the Saint Francis torch insignia indicates a space of hope: a place where the medical and spiritual stand as one. We’re being asked to choose between serving those in need and worshiping God in the chapel, but they go hand-in-hand. To share a quotation of Saint Francis Xavier that is familiar to many Saint Francis staff, ‘it is not the actual physical exertion that counts towards one’s progress, nor the nature of the task, but by the spirit of faith with which it is undertaken.’ Our work depends upon our faith in the living God, and the sanctuary candle represents this to us.”
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