The 4th Of July and Why we need to boldy fight for religious freedom

It is the Fourth of July and a day to reflect on Liberty, on Freedom. And yet many today have concerns that their freedom is being eroded by increasing and over-reaching governmental intrusion.

And, while as Catholics steeped in the moral vision of the Scriptures and Tradition we seek to balance individual rights and the common good, we do rightly have concerns that one of our most fundamental rights recognized in the very First Amendment is being threatened by an unprecedented mandate that we violate our consciences and surrender our religious liberty simply because the government demands it.

Note the language that the First Amendment “recognizes” our freedom to freely exercise our religion. For the State does not grant us this right, God does. It is among those rights the Declaration of Independence so nobly calls “unalienable” rights and says are endowed by our Creator.

Hence, in no way can our right to religious freedom be abridged simply because a president, a congress or a director of a government agency says so. They did not give us this liberty and they cannot take it away. We will not and cannot cede to man, what God has given.

And mind you, the HHS mandate is only the latest and boldest move of what has been a steady stream of threats eroding our religious liberty. These issues affect not only Catholics, but people of many religious backgrounds. However, the Catholic Church is particularly targeted and threatened because we have stood so vocally and firmly in opposition to many aspects of the cultural revolution in America such as Abortion, Embryonic Stem Cell research, euthanasia, the increasing “genocide” against the disabled via selective abortion and pernicious prenatal screening, the Gay rights agenda, Gay “marriage,” and so forth.

As the wider American culture continues to move away from Biblical teachings and Natural Law norms, our Catholic adherence to this age-old wisdom has come to be seen by many as obnoxious, and we are considered to be an influence which must be strongly withstood. Rather than understand our concerns as a principled stance rooted in Biblical norms that we cannot simply set aside, many, in the wider culture, have chosen to describe our stance as bigoted, reactionary, hateful, and broadly intolerant.

As such, many see the repudiation of our religious rights and liberty as “righteous” and as a vindication of their cultural agenda. But the rejoicing in some circles and the active attempt by some to suppress our religious liberty is short-sighted. For, if the Government can deny the liberty of one group, all groups are threatened. If the Government can attempt to legally force a large segment of the US population to act contrary to their conscience, no other segment is safe either.

The threat to religious liberty is both real and growing. To review the HHS Mandate issue note that, until now, federal law has never prevented Catholic institutions from providing for the needs of their employees with a health plan that is consistent with Catholic moral teachings. There were reasonable religious exemptions in place that have always been a respected tradition in the laws of this country as written.

However, under the  HHS mandates, virtually all Catholic hospitals, elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, and charitable organizations would be required to provide coverage for sterilization procedures and contraception, including drugs that may induce abortions, unless they stop hiring and stop serving non-Catholics. The HHS mandate will attempt to force Catholic organizations and individual Catholics either to violate their conscience or risk serious penalties and fines. We cannot and will not comply.

Those who want to turn this into a debate about contraception are missing the point and are being deceived. Because, if the government can seek to compel in these matters offensive to long-standing Catholic teaching,  it can just as easily come after what others consider sacred and right. Do not be deceived, this is about a serious threat to the First Amendment and to the religious liberty of all, not just Catholics, and not just the various churches, but against you, as an individual citizen as well. It is not just the Church that has religious liberty, YOU have religious liberty and no government or official has the right to prohibit the free exercise of your religious duties.

More than freedom of worship! Do not allow others to describe the First Amendment merely as the “freedom of worship.” It is far more. It is to able to freely exercise one’s religion. I am not a Catholic merely inside the church building. I am a Catholic at the supermarket, at the job, in the political arena, in the influence of public policy, and in the daily discourse that seeks to influence the thinking and behavior of my fellow citizens. We, as believers, have the same rights as any other citizens or groups to advocate and organize for causes and courses of action we see as helpful to this country. An essential part of the free exercise of our religious duty is to evangelize the culture and everyone who will listen. It is unacceptable to speak of religious liberty as merely the freedom to worship inside a Church building, it is far more.

Real and subtle – Please understand that the threats to our religious Liberty are very real, but also, at times, subtle. For, beyond the HHS Mandate that is in the news,  much of the erosion is carried out in incremental ways, hidden in the deeper details of legislation, and emerging from strict interpretations of various judges. As such, it requires the Church and other religious organizations to fight on multiple fronts in a wearying number of, often arcane but very significant, legal minutia.

At some level, the erosion of religious liberty is happening simply due to the repeated quality of the multiple and hostile legal maneuvers. The Church and other religious entities may win an individual battle in one case, only to have to face multiple appeals and similar battles in other jurisdictions.

Keeping the faithful organized and alert, and having the legal and financial resources in place to meet every challenge is difficult, and this is part of the erosive technique of the extreme secularists.

Here are just some recent examples of the kinds of cases and issues that emerge:

  1. In 2009 the Baltimore City Council passed a bill regulating the speech of pro-life pregnancy centers by requiring them to post a sign listing services they do not provide (abortion and contraception) or face a daily fine. Abortion clinics and other such pro-choice centers faced no similar requirement. (Montgomery County soon approved a similar regulation. The ordinance has been declared unconstitutional by a federal court but even though the Courts may overturn these sorts of laws, such legal actions place a huge time and financial burden on these charitable organizations and are a distraction from their mission.
  2. 600 Catholic hospitals are finding themselves under increased scrutiny since they provide care in accordance with Catholic religious beliefs. The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the federal government to investigate Catholic hospitals for declining to provide abortion and emergency contraception. The ACLU alleges that Catholic hospitals are thus violating federal laws by adhering to their religious beliefs.
  3. The District of Columbia Government informed Catholic Charities that it would no longer be an eligible foster care and adoption partner. since, as a Catholic organization, Catholic Charities was devoted to placing children in homes with both a mother and a father. Moreover, when District residents filed an appeal to bring the issue of marriage before voters, so that they could have a voice in the debate, their request was repeatedly denied by the D.C. Board of Elections.
  4. Last November the same thing happened in Illinois. The Church there would have been required to provide adoption services to same-sex couples, based on a civil union law that had been passed. “The decision not to pursue further appeals was reached with great reluctance, but was necessitated by the fact that the State of Illinois made it financially impossible for Catholic agencies to continue to provide these services due to the legal cost of continuing the battle.
  5. There has also been a growing trend of government intrusion into the institutional and administrative life of the Church. One of the most disturbing examples of this was in 2009, when a bill was introduced in the Connecticut legislature that would have allowed the state of Connecticut to mandate the structure and organization of Catholic parishes (and only Catholic parishes; it applied to no other denominations). The measure, which ultimately failed, would have removed many administrative and pastoral responsibilities from the pastor and placed them instead in the hands of committees whose membership was defined by the state legislature. Here too, though we won, that such an intrusive principle could see the light of day was disturbing and to fight it cost the Church and Catholics a huge amount of time and money.
  6. Christians cannot speak publicly of their values? Medina Valley Independent School District, allows the class valedictorian to deliver a graduation address. The speech is written by the student and delivered in his or her own name as a personal reflection on what has helped them attain to their success and to give an encouraging word to fellow students. Last year, valedictorian, Angela Hildenbrand, a Bible-believing Christian, was valedictorian. Many knew that Angela would give thanks to God for blessing her work as a student, and that she might offer a prayer. Alleging that hearing a prayer would cause serious and irreparable harm, lawyers at “Americans United for the Separation of Church and State” (AUSCS) filed suit for an agnostic family. A federal judge….issued an order that no prayers could be offered, and also that Angela could not utter certain words in her speech, including the phrase “bow your heads” or the specific words “prayer” or “amen.” The reality is, the judge’s order, not a prayer Angela might offer in her speech, violated the First Amendment. A student is given the stage to speak about her values and priorities and to thank whomever she wishes for helping her succeed in school. Because she’s a private citizen (not a government agent), her speech is protected by the First Amendment Free Speech Clause. For government, (including a judge), to censor her private speech is unconstitutional. On June 4, the Fifth Circuit federal appeals court granted an emergency motion to reverse the district judge.
  7. Grants denied on Religious Grounds – In 2008 the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts brought suit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, seeking to eliminate a grant to programs that aid victims of human trafficking. Because Catholic programs don’t refer for abortions, the ACLU alleged that public support amounts to the establishment of religion. The Obama Justice Department defended the grant in court. But recently, HHS abruptly ended the funding.
  8. And again – It is now standard procedure in the Obama administration to deny funding to some Catholic programs based solely on their pro-life beliefs. [4]
  9. The latest and most pervasive threat is the New HHS law described above.

At the beginning of a New Year, please take these threats seriously. The extreme secularists presume they can simply wear us down by their repeated and numerous legal maneuverings. And, frankly, they may be right, unless people like you and me are vigilant and unflinching in supporting the Church as she battles these attacks.

And don’t be too sanguine about how we should be willing to endure persecution. We should, but that does not mean we simply surrender our Constitutional rights at the door and let secularists, and proponents of the cultural revolution isolate us. We have every Constitutional right that any American does and we cannot simply let the Church be silenced by either ignoring the problem or minimizing it.

There is an important Battle underway. Where do you stand? What will you do? To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “My daddy always said, ‘If you find a good fight, get in it.'” Well this is a good fight, a necessary fight. Get in it.

Here is the Parable of the Kosher Deli:

22 Replies to “The 4th Of July and Why we need to boldy fight for religious freedom”

  1. one of our most fundamental rights recognized in the very First Amendment is being threatened by an unprecedented mandate that we violate our consciences and surrender our religious liberty simply because the government demands it

    There is no prohibition on paying taxes in Catholic teaching. Accordingly, it is no violation of conscience or religious liberty for the government to require employers to pay an added tax to the government if they choose not to provide certain coverage in their healthcare plans. No Catholic employer is compelled to provide contraceptive coverage, they are simply required to pay an employment tax.

    That is the new Roberts Rule, which says that it is wholly within the Taxing Power of Congress to impose a “tax” on uninsured persons who fail to buy insurance. Such a scheme is not a penalty or impermissible mandate to do anything, according to Chief Justice Roberts, it is merely the imposition of a tax.

    So, under his newly-established constitutional precedent, there is no mandate to provide contraception, there is merely the application of a tax.

    That is the new reality, that is the new despotism, that we are facing after the fraudulent ObamaCare decision — it chops personal liberty everywhere off at the knees.

    1. Indeed, since the proceeds of the “no contraceptive coverage tax” are supposedly to be applied toward the provision of government-funded healthcare other than contraception and other social services, which the USCCB has repeatedly insisted is a moral good, there is even less of a valid objection on Catholic teaching grounds if this wholly specious rule decreed by John Roberts is allowed to stand (and because it is now the “law of the land,” it will stand forever unless and until it is overruled in some future Supreme Court case).

      Make no mistake, the dictatorship of relativism that is on display in the ObamaCare ruling is an utter disaster for personal liberty, including religious freedom.

  2. Numbers 3 and 4 present themselves more as opportunities to engage the real issues of adoption in the 21st century, and less to see it as a solution for adult childlessness.

    Otherwise, the concerns about religious liberty are part of a larger concern about a creeping imperialist presidency and the growing ascendancy of corporations. The problem is closer to being seventy years old and less one or two.

    I think what we’re seeing is that the Church’s administrative expressions are threatened, but it’s only part of a long line of assaults, direct and subtle. I suspect if the bishops had been more outspoken about the Iraq Wars, it would have begun years ago.

    1. I didn’t really understand your first paragraph, but I agree completely with your second and third paragraphs. Both the government and corporations are insane (in the simple sense of the word) to discourage child bearing, as without a population, government doesn’t have people to govern and corporations don’t have workers to work for them and consumers to buy things from them.

      I regret having supported the first war in Iraq and think it and the consequences that followed it greatly accelerated the sorrows that are upon and coming upon our nation.

  3. Have you seen this EWTN article: http://www.ewtnnews.com/catholic-news/World.php?id=5740 ? I quote it in part:

    “Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore believes that fight for religious liberty has not been damaged the Supreme Court’s ruling that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is constitutional.

    ‘My reaction is that the bishops have never joined in seeking to have the whole law overturned,’ he told EWTN News during a visit to Rome June 28.

    ‘We were looking that federal dollars would not be used for abortions, that there was conscience protection and help for immigrants. None of that is in the bill. None of those were touched by the decision in a substantial way.’”

    What is Bishop Lori taling about here? And how does this relate to the video clip above?

    1. Archbishop Lori (and the USCCB as a whole) are opposed to certain elements of “Obamacare” not the whole law, thus they didn’t have a pony in the race with the recent SCOTUS ruling. Of course had the Court ruled ACA unconstitutional, our problems (including the HHS mandate) would have been swept away, but undoing the entire Health Care Law is not the Bishops’ fight. In other words, the struggle goes on (and as you can see from the variety of threats listed above – the struggle would have gone on even if Roberts had cast his vote the other way). In the video clip, Archbishop Lori is simply speaking to the HHS mandate not the entire ACA. Hope that helps a little bit. Happy Fourth.

      1. Nathan,
        If the Court had ruled ACA unconstitutional, what problems would be swept away? Aren’t the 30+ million people without healthcare “our” problem?

        1. Daniel,

          I was simply referring to the HHS mandate and other threats emanating from the extensive powers handed over to the HHS director. Of course, all Catholics are (or should be) concerned with making sure Health Care is provided to all, which is why the Church invented the hospital to start with and why our Bishops were not arguing for the dismantling of the entire ACA.

          I assume you are adamantly opposed to the HHS mandate.

          1. Nathan,
            I believe the mandate needs to be revisited and adjusted to accommodate a broader understanding of what defines a religious group. Personally I think this would be a more beneficial argument for the bishops to be making rather than to claim we are on the cusp of losing all our religious liberty, but I’m not a bishop…

        2. There are not and were not “30+ million people without healthcare.”

          Please, let’s not continue with the linguistic sleight of hand that Roberts engaged in.

          A medical insurance policy is NOT the same thing as actual health care and treatment. Do not conflate the two. They are different. While there may or not be some number of people without an insurance policy, they DO have access to needed actual care and treatment.

          On the other hand, an insurance policy is nothing more than (1) a bill requiring you to pay money to the insurance company and (2) a mere promise by the insurer to pay money to a healthcare provider. Note that neither of these is the actual provision of care. And that mere promise to pay by the insurer is NOT a guarantee that you will actually receive any treatment or care at all.

          Not one person can walk into a doctor’s office or hospital with insurance policy in hand and demand that the provider drop everything in order to provide that person care. The provider will give you treatment when the provider decides to give it to you, if at all.

          1. Bender,
            I think you are brave to go without health insurance–you clearly see it as useless extra expense–but I pray you never need an MRI or surgery, unless you are very wealthy and can pay cash. While anyone can go to an ER to get care, the truth is that without insurance a person is not likely to get regular (preventive) care, and by the time problems arise it may be too late to help them and at the very least is much more expensive to treat illnesses in late stage. The cost for that, of course, falls upon the taxpayer, but the major argument is that it leads many to an early and unnecessary death because a person is poor. That’s not sleight of hand–it’s the hard truth for millions of Americans.

          2. Again, can we please dispense with the disingenuousness? Nowhere did I say or suggest that health insurance is a useless extra expense, and neither can such be inferred whatsoever from my comments, so kindly refrain from putting words in my mouth.

            That said, I have, in fact, been without health insurance, and was so for several years when I was younger. During that time I did what is apparently no longer to be expected — I responsibly paid for my own medical expenses out of my pocket, including preventive care.

            Likewise, the vast majority of young and healthy people do not need the extravagant insurance policies that are now dictated by government. To be sure — and, again, let’s stick to truth and honesty, shall we? — the overwhelmingly main reason for compelling these young and healthy people to buy insurance is NOT so that they can get treatment and care, rather, the purpose of compelling the young and healthy to buy insurance is to get their money. The purpose is not to give them anything, but to take from them, to make them pay in, with the substantial likelihood that they will take little to nothing out. After all, were they to take out as much as they put in, then that would simply burden the system more and defeat the whole purpose of the mandate.

          3. Daniel, I’m going to let you in on a little secret – preventive care is, by and large, a CROCK. And as far as I’m concerned, with the exception of newborns, almost no one goes to the doctor when they are well. Very few people go in year after year to make sure their normal cholesterol or normal blood sugars or normal blood pressure or normal urine test, etc, is still normal. People go to the doctor when they are sick. And it seems there are two kinds – the first go at every little unusual thing, and the rest wait until it’s almost too late to help them. But preventive care, in general, is a myth.

            I’m sure lots of folks will take the opportunity to tell me I;m wrong, but this is my experience, as a member of the medical profession.

          4. I should clarify — by newborns I meant of course, well-baby checks for the first year.

          5. As a “member of the medical profession” are you recommending that check-ups are a CROCK (except for the first year of life)? I’m going to seek a second opinion…

  4. Excellent, Monsignor Pope, as usual. Thanks for providing such a timely message on such an auspicious day celebrating America’s freedom. (BTW, “boldly” is misspelled in the title).

  5. I’m reading a terrifying book right now called “Lord of the World”, by Robert Hugh Benson. It talks about a future where mankind has been consolidated under the one rule of a messiah-like figure whose first move to to eliminate true religion–what’s left of the Catholic Church, already marginalized by pervasive Secular indoctrination but still putting up resistance– and replace it with the worship of Humanity. The thing is, even though this book was written in 1907, the world it describes is frighteningly prophetic in describing what our world (especially the West) seems to be quickly becoming.

  6. I agree that this HHS Mandate issue is about religious liberty. One possibly good side effect of this entire controversy could be that it helps inform both Catholic and non-Catholics about the moral evil of artificial birth control. God help our country and our Church.

  7. I believe that the Lord Jesus Christ taught us not to be anxious for a reason: He is always doing a good work for his beloved though we may not be around long enough to notice.

    For example, if we lived long enough only to FIRST see the sun at 3 PM and died as the sun approached sunset, we would be in a panic! We would say, “The sun is disappearing! We’re doomed!” However, if we lived at least a “day” or two, we would have the wisdom to know that the sun sets and rises once every day! But, since we do not live on earth for an eternity, we can only see that event which is happening during our own very short life span. BUT, God controls what we can not control. We can influence what happens by our “yes” to God. Or we can slow or temporarily divert what happens by our “no” to God. But while the ups and downs seem many, the slope is always upward and onward toward a wonderful life with God.

    Yes, we are in a spiritual battle and earch of our roles is important. We should all be good soldiers and say “yes” to God when He calls/inspires us to act. But, through thick or thin, we should have the utmost confidence in God’s omniscient care and perfect plan. He is the ultimate loving Parent and He is our Battle King – the only one Who’s battle cry can be, “Follow Me! I AM. “

  8. Yep. And if you look at all the myriad legal attacks on individual Christians and on religious symbols in public, the picture is even worse. Add to all this attacks on freedom in general…and we have looming tyranny. I don’t think it’s too far out to say that.

    In my opinion, the latest Supreme Court decision puts us farther down that path by giving the government the freedom to “tax” us for NOT doing something the government would like us to do. Even if the HHS Mandate is struck down (please, Lord), the individual mandate the Court just upheld is an offense against citizens’ freedom. A dangerous precedent has been set: if individual citizens resist taking actions the government wants, the government can just “tax” you in an onerous manner so that you are forced to do it or suffer real hardship.

    By the way, this kind of tactic (penalities disguised as taxes) is way too similar to the tactics that Communists used against churches in the 20th century…for America to accept this kind of approach at all, for any purpose, is horrifying. And even if the limiting factor is supposedly that the “tax” must not violate other rights enumerated in the Constitution/Bill of rights, that leaves a lot that could be forced on us…and depends on fair application of those rights, too.

    Imagine having to choose between your conscience and having enough money to pay your rent, or eat… or between your conscience and ending up in jail for tax evasion. That could happen to some of us rather soon, if the HHS mandate stands. Those who refuse to comply because the only available health plans violate our conscience, or because none of the options are affordable (which is going to happen for at least some middle class people)…what options will we have?

    We need to be vigilant and fight for our religious freedom, as you say…and pray for revival, not just in the Catholic Church but in general, because that is probably the only way that this thing can be turned around, if it can be turned around at all.

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