The Biden administration has decided to allow a Catholic hospital in Oklahoma to keep its sanctuary candle after previously ordering its removal for “fire safety reasons.” The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had threatened to deny Saint Francis Health System access to Medicare and Medicaid funds, citing the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) fire safety requirements. However, the administration reversed course after Becket Law, a nonprofit law firm representing the hospital, threatened legal action for religious discrimination.
Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel at Becket Law, stated, “The game was simply not worth the candle for HHS. It realized it would be playing with fire in court if it stood by its absurd demand, so it chose wisely.” She added, “We are glad Saint Francis can continue to serve those most in need while keeping the faith.”
Saint Francis Health System has provided over $650 million of free medical care to the community over the past five years and employs more than 11,000 Oklahomans. Catholics believe the living flame is a sign of the living presence of Jesus, and the candle in question is far removed from medical equipment and patients, shielded by glass holders and surrounded by sprinkler heads.
After Becket Law sent a letter on behalf of the hospital, the department informed them that it would be rescinding its previous order and allowing the candle to remain. The HHS has not publicly commented on the matter.
Barry Steichen, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Saint Francis, said the sacred candle represents faith in God as staff provides care for patients. He added that the candle has burned without issue for years at two Saint Francis hospital locations.
In a show of bipartisan support, a delegation of Oklahoma lawmakers, including Sens. James Lankford (R-OK) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Reps. Kevin Hern (R-OK), Tom Cole (R-OK), Frank Lucas (R-OK), Stephanie Bice (R-OK) and Josh Brecheen (R-OK) applauded the Biden administration’s decision to back down. They issued a statement saying, “St. Francis is a Catholic hospital seeking to serve all who need care in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This was a violation of religious freedom — a bedrock of our nation’s founding.”
The lawmakers vowed to continue working to ensure that such incidents do not happen again, stating, “We will not allow any federal agency to extinguish Oklahomans’ right to exercise their freedom of religion — especially in a time of need. We’ll now get to work to ensure this doesn’t happen anywhere or to anyone else.”
Ultimately, the Biden administration made the right call in allowing the hospital to continue its religious practices while serving the community. The event demonstrates the importance that every citizen demands respect for religious freedom, which remains a fundamental aspect of American life.