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The St Francis Hospital South chapel in Oklahoma, where a US federal surveyor deemed a sanctuary candle (back right) needs to be extinguished for safety purposes (Crux/Becket Fund for Religious Liberty)

A Catholic health system in Oklahoma has threatened to sue the United States Government over a decision to deny re-accreditation to one of its hospitals if it doesn’t follow an order to extinguish a long-lit sanctuary candle for safety purposes. Source: Crux.

Following a hospital inspection in February, a federal surveyor deemed that a living flame in the St Francis Hospital South chapel – part of the Saint 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.

St Francis Health Systems and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, meanwhile, argue that St 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”. As such, they claim the order is a violation of the First Amendment, which protects the free exercise of religion.

Lori Windham, vice president and senior director at Becket, who wrote a letter to the federal Government on April 28 regarding the St Francis order, called the demand to extinguish the candle “absurd and unlawful”. She threatened legal action if the order isn’t rescinded.

In her letter, Ms Windham highlighted the negative impact of denying Saint Francis re-accreditation, saying it would “abruptly and immediately jeopardise its services to the elderly, disabled, and low-income patients.

An April 20 letter from the Government to St Francis Health System denied the hospital’s appeal and request for reconsideration of the order. In the letter, an HHS official broke down the Government’s decision, citing that the hospital must meet “life safety from fire requirements,” and emphasising the need for the candle to be supervised, as the surveyor noted in his assessment.


Catholic hospital takes U.S. government to court over order to extinguish sanctuary candle (By John Lavenburg, Crux