'If we go to court, you will lose': CMS abandons fight over Catholic hospital's candle

The federal government ditched its attempt to force Saint Francis Health System to snuff out a sacred candle burning in one of its hospitals, according to a May 5 news release from Becket Law, a nonprofit public interest law firm for religious liberty.

The Joint Commission found one such flame dangerous and in violation of CMS' patient safety policy. In April, HHS threatened to strip the hospital of Medicare, Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program funding unless it blew out the flame. 

Saint Francis, a five-hospital system in Tulsa, Okla., argued that a sacred candle is always lit inside its hospital chapels — with various safeguards — in accordance with its Catholic faith. 

In a May 5 letter to CMS, an attorney for Saint Francis warned CMS, "If we go to court, you will lose." Saint Francis argued that the government was trampling on the hospital's religious duty to maintain a flame and was trying to separate the health system's religious activities from its healthcare.

"At the heart of Saint Francis' mission is love for God and man. The living flame of our chapel candle indicates to all who enter our hospitals that we will serve them with religious devotion as Christ commands us," Saint Francis CEO Cliff Robertson, MD, said. "We are grateful for the support of Becket and Yetter Coleman, of the Oklahoma Delegation, and of countless persons all throughout the nation, and we are grateful for The Joint Commission and HHS's recognition of our religious liberties."

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