FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL: Republican New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith tore into President Joe Biden’s administration for barring Catholic priests from ministering to service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, warning that the move calls into question “the Federal Government’s respect for, and protection of, the innate religious rights of Catholics in the United States.”

Smith sent an April 14 letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, first obtained by The Daily Signal, following news that Walter Reed National Military Medical Center had sent a cease and desist letter to Holy Name College Friary ordering that they must stop providing care at the center.

The medical center issued the cease and desist order as Catholics headed into Holy Week, the most sacred week in the Catholic faith commemorating the bloody crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The group of Franciscan Catholic priests and brothers had ministered to the service members and veterans at Walter Reed for almost two decades, according to the Archdiocese for Military Services.

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center had terminated the Franciscans’ contract for Catholic Pastoral Care on March 31, 2023, the archdiocese said. That contract was then “awarded to a secular defense contracting firm that cannot fulfill the statement of work in the contract,” the archdiocese said in a release, noting that “as a result, adequate pastoral care is not available for service members and veterans in the United States’ largest Defense Health Agency medical center either during Holy Week or beyond.”

“On April 4, 2023, a cease-and-desist letter was issued to Holy Name College Friary, a community of Franciscan priests and brothers, who have a strong record of providing pastoral care to military patients and veterans at Walter Reed for nearly two decades, barring them from providing any form of religious services,” Smith wrote in the letter.

“The Catholic pastoral care contract awarded to the Franciscans of Holy Name College expired on March 31, 2023, and a new contract was awarded to Mack Global LLC, a defense contractor, self-described as ‘your one-stop procurement for janitorial supplies, industrial machinery, aggregates and raw materials,’” he added.

Smith warned that the move “highlights questionable judgment by officers awarding a Catholic pastoral care contract to a for-profit company best suited to provide industrial services instead of a Catholic religious institution with a strong record of providing pastoral services.”

“It is imperative the Department of Defense moves immediately to rectify this situation and conduct a review of contracting practices related to the provision of religious services at military institutions throughout the Defense Department,” the congressman said.

This is not the only failure of the Biden administration to respect the religious needs and conscience rights of service members, Smith noted, highlighting the significant number of religious exemption requests to the COVID-19 vaccine that the Biden administration has denied.

“Coupled with the recent revelation of the FBI targeting Catholics for increased surveillance in Richmond, Virginia, and the failure of DOJ to prosecute anti-Catholic vandalism at churches, there are serious concerns regarding the Executive Branch’s position regarding First Amendment protections and invite questions regarding the Federal Government’s respect for, and protection of, the innate religious rights of Catholics in the United States,” the congressman warned.

In a press release from the Archdiocese Military Services, Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy P. Broglio said the move infringes on the First Amendment rights of services members.

“It is incomprehensible that essential pastoral care is taken away from the sick and the aged when it was so readily available,” he said. “This is a classic case where the adage ‘if it is not broken, do not fix it’ applies.”

“I fear that giving a contract to the lowest bidder overlooked the fact that the bidder cannot provide the necessary service,” he added. “I earnestly hope that this disdain for the sick will be remedied at once and their First Amendment rights will be respected.”

Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the url or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.