May 25, 2012 – The Fight For Freedom

First of all, I hope you have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend.  I have to admit my excitement for the first 3-day weekend I’ve had in quite a while, but of course the focus of this holiday weekend is remembering and praying for those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our country and our freedom.  We also continue to pray for those who are in harm’s way throughout the world, and for the families of our troops who also have to sacrifice a lot in support of their loved ones.  This weekend I’m sure we will hear the word “freedom” quite a bit.  We will hear about the thousands and thousands of troops who died for the sake of freedom.  We will hear about what a precious gift out freedom is.  We will hear about how fortunate we are to live in a country that values freedom so much.  It makes it that much harder to fathom, then, that there are mandates being proposed by our leaders in government that would erode one of our most precious freedoms – the freedom of religion.

I have written on this before, and I think a couple of questions have lingered to this point.  One is whether the Administration and other government entities would really continue to push policies that force institutions under Catholic leadership to include coverage for contraception and abortion inducing drugs in their health insurance plans, even though this goes against the beliefs of the church.  The answer to this has been a resounding yes.  Even though the Administration claims it has made exemptions for religious employers, the definition is very narrow and still would not include the vas majority of Catholic organizations such as universities, hospitals, charitable organizations, and even publishing companies.  This is only one of many issues confronting us that threaten one of our most precious freedoms, but this is the issue that has garnered the bulk of the spotlight.  To read more about other issues that pose a threat to our religious freedom, here is a link to a newsletter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/fortnight-for-freedom/upload/Current-Threats-to-Religious-Liberty.pdf

The other lingering question has been whether the Bishops of the United States would have the courage and the zeal to challenge these threats.  We found out this week that the answer is a resounding yes.  This past Monday, 43 Catholic Dioceses and organizations in 12 different jurisdictions, including the Archdioceses of New York, Washington D.C. and St. Louis, the University of Notre Dame, and the publication Our Sunday Visitor, filed lawsuits against our federal government claiming that this mandate goes against our constitutional rights, and should be blocked from becoming law.  I skimmed over a copy of one of the lawsuits that was filed, which covered 69 pages.  I am not a lawyer, but the lawsuit basically makes the following points:

1) One of our most cherished freedoms is the freedom to practice our religion without government interference.  This is the issue that has put us at odds with the Federal government.  This is not about whether people have a right to obtain means of birth control.  These services are widely available and will continue to be.  However, the right to obtain such services does not authorize the government to force religious organizations to violate their consciences by making them provide and pay for these services.

2) Since the founding of our country, religious organizations have had the ability to provide services to all people, no matter what the religious views were of those who benefitted from those services.  This mandate would jeopardize the ability of religious organizations to continue these services.

3) If the government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in this manner, then there is no clear limit to the power of our government.  This is a clear violation of constitutional rights.

So where does this leave us as Catholics, and what can we do to avoid further restrictions of religious freedom?  There are several things that all of us can do:

1) Contact political leaders at both the state and federal levels and inform them that the erosion of our religious liberties mist stop, starting with these unjust regulations.

2) Stand with our bishops and follow their example of stating our views in a clear manner.  We also need to educate ourselves so that we can be witnesses in our own community.  There are many resources available, particularly online, that explain the details of these issues.  One good resource is the U.S. Bishops “Conscience Protection” page.  The link to the page is: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/ .

3) Pray for our political and religious leaders that they respect the rights of all people and that they remain open to the teachings of the gospel.

4) Support our Catholic organizations and institutions who have the desire to act according to the principles of the church.

In response to these concerns, the Bishops of the U.S. have declared the two-week period from June 21 through July 4 as a “Fortnight for Freedom”.  This period will focus on prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom.  You will be hearing more about this over the next few weeks, and there will be information available on our website.  Right now, you can go to this link for information, prayer resources and educational resources: www.fortnight4freedom.org .

In reading various articles this week, I came across a quote that was thoughtful and informative, yet ironic and frustrating at the same time, considering who said the quote.  The quote is this: “We are blessed to live in a nation that counts freedom of conscience and free exercise of religion among its most fundamental principles, thereby ensuring that all people of good will may hold and practice their beliefs according to the dictates of their consciences.”   The speaker of the quote: Barack Obama.

I know that reading about politics and policies may not be the most compelling reading material, and it may not be the most fun thing to write about, but we as catholics make up one-quarter of the population of this country, and we have a duty as Catholics to be informed and to stand up for our principles.

Enjoy your weekend and try to stay cool (98 degrees in May?  Blah!).  Also have a great week ahead.  Peace.

 

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