We hear the cry: “Religious Liberty is under attack!” Is this just another slogan similar to others so often shouted by radicals and extremists? No! Something dreadfully serious has happened. Sometimes it’s difficult to sort fact from emotion, truth from hidden agendas. This has certainly been the case these past several months as the debate intensifies over the Obama Administration’s decision regarding health care.
The recent Department of Health and Human Services mandate requires almost all private health plans to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. Some, with other agendas, would have us believe that this is really an issue about contraception and women’s reproductive rights. It is not.
This is first and foremost a question about religious liberty. No amount of verbal gymnastics or political grandstanding can deny the fact that with this mandate, the federal government is forcing religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty.
Because our Church seeks to contribute to the common good by providing needed services to those who may or may not be Catholic, i.e. Catholic Charities, Catholic schools, Catholic nursing homes, this law dictates that the Church would not be exempt from this mandate which violates its moral teaching. This is a tragically unjust law.
Let us be clear. We are not asking for special treatment, simply the rights of religious freedom for all citizens. Rev. Martin Luther King once noted that the church is neither the master nor the servant of the state, but its conscience, guide, and critic. The teaching of the Church is absolutely clear about religious liberty (Declaration on Religious Liberty, 1966): The human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs…whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits…This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed. Thus it is to become a civil right.
As a bishop, it is my responsibility to bring the light of the Gospel to our public life, but the work of committed and courageous lay Catholics in the public square is crucial in the witness of our faith. We must not succumb to the current tendency to reduce the freedom of religion to the mere freedom of worship. There is an urgent need for all the lay faithful, in cooperation with others, to impress upon our elected representatives and others the importance of continued protection of religious liberty in a free society.
I have encouraged all of our pastors in the Diocese of Ogdensburg to join the faithful of our nation in leading the Christian faithful in prayer, observing a Fortnight for Freedom, from June 21, the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More to July 4, Independence Day.
I have provided the pastors with suggestions of how to participate in this prayer campaign. They have, also, received material and resource information that will aid parishioners in this special national effort of teaching and witness for religious liberty.
I will open the Fortnight for Freedom with a Holy Hour for Religious Freedom at St. Mary’s Cathedral at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 21. All are invited to join in this special diocesan expression of our unity on religious freedom.