Protecting Religious Liberty

T oday I would like to bring up a topic I have left  unaddressed for too long a time: religious liberty. It was on January 20 that the Department of Health and Human Services of the federal government issued a mandate which requires almost all employers to offer their employees health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. On January 29 I had a letter from Archbishop Nienstedt inserted in the bulletin to make it clear what our own government was saying we would have to do.

On February 19 and March 4 I wrote about the mandate in my column, pointing out that if it stands, our parish and any church that objects to offering these “services” can be exempted from offering them if it can prove it serves mostly people who hold the same beliefs. So St. Peter’s won’t have to violate the teachings of the Catholic Church. But charitable organizations, hospitals, and colleges that serve many people of different faiths cannot be exempted. This is not just a Catholic issue. All too infrequently has it been mentioned that the mandate affects all people of any faith who run businesses small and large who do not wish to offer products and services that violate their consciences. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops summarizes it this way: “The mandate forces these institutions and others, against their conscience, to pay for things they consider immoral. Under the mandate, the government forces religious insurers to write policies that violate their beliefs; forces religious employers and schools to sponsor and subsidize coverage that violates their beliefs; and forces religious employees and students to purchase coverage that violates their beliefs.”

On February 10 the administration of President Obama announced a “compromise” by which the contracts signed by Catholic institutions for their employees’ health care would refrain from mentioning the objectionable services, and yet these services will still be provided. This so-called compromise would simply provide an excuse to stop objecting to the mandate.

This is a matter of religious liberty. The Health and Human Services mandate should be disturbing to all people- – even those who favor contraception. If the federal government can force one group to act contrary to its official religious beliefs, then that same federal government can force another group to act contrary to its religious beliefs. In discussing this matter, some of our leaders, including the President, have used the phrase “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion.” While our ability to worship God in church is not under attack, we should all know that our religion does not consist only of what we do within the walls of a church. Our religion should affect all of the decisions we make, and our government cannot take away our ability to practice our religion at the times we are not sitting in church.

What follows was written by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

What can you do to help protect religious freedom? When Pope Benedict visited the United States in 2008, he asked the U.S. bishops a question: “Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs?” The Holy Father then answered his own question: “…Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.”

Although the full impact of the Holy Father’s words might not have been understood then, they have since proven prophetic. The Pope was challenging Catholics in the United States to resist the growing pressure to confine religious beliefs to houses of worship and to prevent the Church and individual believers from living out their faith in their day-to-day work and care for others. The U.S. bishops have since raised numerous concerns over the increasing threats to religious freedom, especially the now-finalized rule of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which would force virtually all private health plans nationwide to provide coverage of sterilization and contraception—including abortifacient drugs. While there is an exemption for certain “religious employers,” it only covers employers that serve people of their own faith. Jesus and his apostles would not qualify. Mother Teresa would not qualify. As the bishops noted in their statement, United for Religious Freedom, this is an extremely narrow and unprecedented federal definition of religion, resulting in coercion to act against our teachings and the violation of civil rights.

Federal law has long been generous in protecting the rights of individuals and institutions to not to act against their religious beliefs or moral convictions. Is that nowchanging? Are we entering a time when the federal government may now force the Church—consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions—to act against Church teachings?

While we seek remedies from the White House, Congress, and the courts, the U.S. bishops have called upon the Catholic faithful, and all people of faith, throughout our country to join in prayer and penance for our political leaders, and for the complete protection of our first freedom—religious liberty. Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength—for without God, we can do nothing; but with God, all things are possible.

What can you do to help protect religious freedom?  To get breaking news and opportunities for action, text the word “Freedom” to 377377 on your cell phone.

To learn more about our first freedom, and to send your message to Congress urging them to stand up for conscience rights in health care, go to www.usccb.org/conscience.

To join in the Rosary novena for Life and Liberty, October 14-22, or to sponsor a Marian Pilgrimage or other prayer efforts for religious freedom and conscience rights, go to www.usccb.org/freedom.

Here at the parish, we will be having a prayer vigil on Sunday, October 14 at 3:00. Please watch the bulletin for details!

Leave a Reply

Archives