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"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?…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." Pope Benedict XVIWhen Pope Benedict visited the United States in 2008, he challenged Catholics to resist the growing governmental and societal 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. An especially serious example is the now-finalized rule of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), forcing 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 hire and serve people of their own faith. By that definition, even Jesus and his apostles would not qualify. Neither would Mother Teresa. As the bishops noted in their statement, United for Religious Freedom, this is an unprecedented and extremely narrow federal definition of religion, resulting in coercion to act against our teachings. This violates our civil rights.
Does the federal government now have the power to force the Church, consisting of its faithful and the vast majority of its institutions, to act against Church teachings? As Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the U.S. bishops' Conference, stated: "We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress – and we'll keep at it – but there's still no fix. Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now."
Across the country, a growing list of dioceses, hospitals, schools, church agencies and employers has filed multiple lawsuits contesting the HHS mandate as a violation of religious freedom. From Christian-owned retail chains, to charities and schools, to Bible publishers, more and more people of faith—not only Catholics—are resisting the Administration's efforts to quarantine religious beliefs within church walls.
Take Tyndale House, for example. Though one of the world's largest privately held Christian publishers of books, Bibles, and digital media, they are apparently not religious enough to be exempt from the HHS mandate. In its recent lawsuit against the Administration, Tyndale's legal counsel stated that "Bible publishers should be free to do business according to the book that they publish."
Most Americans agree. Poll after poll shows that Americans believe employers should not be forced to cover birth control or potentially abortion-causing drugs, and especially not religious employers who object to that coverage. Yet the Administration presses on to get these court cases dismissed.
At this critical time in the life of our nation, 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 religious liberty. To join in the Rosary Novena for Life and Liberty, October 14-22, or to sponsor or join other prayer efforts, go to www.usccb.org/freedom. To learn more about threats to religious freedom and conscience rights in health care, and to take action, visit www.usccb.org/conscience.
Tom Grenchik is Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Go to www.usccb.org/prolife to learn more about the bishops' pro-life activities.
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