With a potential lawsuit looming, the US Government has issued a waiver to allow a Catholic hospital in Oklahoma to keep the flame of its chapel sanctuary candle burning.
The Department of Health and Human Services “realised it would be playing with fire in court if it stood by its absurd demand, so it chose wisely,” Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said in a statement.
Following a hospital inspection in February, a surveyor commissioned by the US Government deemed that a living flame in the St Francis Hospital South chapel – part of the St Francis Health System – violated code, as it is “an open flame burning unattended 24/7.”
The surveyor issued a citation demanding the candle be extinguished. The Government then doubled down on the decision in an April 20 letter response to the hospital’s appeal and request for reconsideration, noting that the hospital would lose its accreditation if it didn’t follow the order.
Saint Francis Health Systems and the Becket, meanwhile, argued that Saint Francis cannot extinguish the flame as a matter of faith, since the living flame in the chapel is “a sign of the living presence of Jesus.”
A spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services that commissioned the surveyor, said in a statement that the two sides met, and the hospital will now work with the accrediting organisation on next steps to ensure safety.
“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,” Dr Cliff Robertson, Saint Francis Health System chief,