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WASHINGTON—The head of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called on Congress to defend the American legacy of religious liberty on October 26, during a hearing before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
The chairman, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, noted several recent actions by government entities that mark the erosion of the freedom of religion, often called the nation’s “First Freedom.” These actions include a health coverage mandate that would coerce employers to pay for services for which they have moral objections, such as abortion, sterilization and contraceptives, and government contracting decisions that exclude agencies unless they provide such services.
Bishop Lori’s testimony can be found at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/lori-testimony-on-religious-freedom-2011-10-26.pdf
He called for passage of three bills before Congress: the Protect Life Act (H.R. 358), the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 361), and the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179).
“All three go a long way toward guaranteeing religious liberty and freedom of conscience for religious employers, health insurers, and health care providers,” he said.
As to the illegal conditions placed on religious providers of human services, he said, “this may call for a Congressional hearing or other form of investigation to ensure compliance with the applicable conscience laws, as well as to identify how these new requirements came to be imposed.”
“Additional statutes may be appropriate, possibly to create new conscience protections, but more likely to create private rights of action for those whose rights under the existing protections have been violated,” he added.
He also urged the House to reject the Respect for Marriage Act (H.R. 1116), which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA, which was signed by President Clinton in 1996, defines marriage as between one man and one woman for purposes of federal law and leaves states free to define marriage as they see fit. Bishop Lori added that the U.S. bishops “applaud the decision of the House to take up the defense of DOMA,” which the U.S. Department of Justice has refused to defend in court. He called on the House to continue that defense “for as long as necessary to obtain definitive confirmation of [DOMA’s] constitutionality.”
He added that the Department of Justice’s decision to abandon DOMA seems to “warrant congressional inquiry.”
Bishop Lori highlighted the nation’s history of religious freedom, noting for example that religious liberty is properly called the “First Freedom” because it is protected at the very beginning of the First Amendment to the Constitution, but also because it is “prior to the state itself.”
Religious liberty “is not merely a privilege that the government grants us and so may take away at will.Instead, religious liberty is inherent in our very humanity, hard-wired into each and every one of us by our Creator,” he said. “Thus government has a perennial obligation to acknowledge and protect religious liberty as fundamental, no matter the moral and political trends of the moment. This insight as well is reflected in the laws and traditions of our country from its very inception. The Declaration of Independence boldly proclaimed as a self-evident truth that our inalienable rights are ‘endowed by our Creator’—not by the State.”
Keywords: Bishop William Lori, USCCB, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, U.S. House of Representatives, Judiciary Committee, Constitution, Declaration of Independence, religious freedom, first freedom, freedom of religion, religious liberty, DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act, abortion, conscience
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