WASHINGTON—The U.S. bishops haveissued a call to action to defend religious liberty and urged laity to work toprotect the First Freedom of the Bill of Rights. They outlined their positionin “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.” The document was developed by the AdHoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops(USCCB), approved for publication by the USCCB Administrative Committee March 13,and published in English and Spanish April 12.
Thedocument can be found at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/our-first-most-cherished-liberty.cfm.
“Wehave been staunch defenders of religious liberty in the past. We have a solemnduty to discharge that duty today,” the bishops said in the document, “… forreligious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad.”
The document lists concerns thatprompt the bishops to act now.Amongconcerns are:
• The Health andHuman Services (HHS) mandate forcing all employers, including religiousorganizations, to provide and pay for coverage of employees’ contraception,sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs even when they have moral objectionsto them. Another concern is HHS’s defining which religious institutions are“religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty.
• Driving Catholicfoster care and adoption services out of business. Boston, San Francisco, theDistrict of Columbia and Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities adoptionor foster care services out of business by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts,or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couplesor unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.
• Discriminationagainst Catholic humanitarian services. Despite years of excellent performanceby the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services in administering contractservices for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed itscontract specifications to require USCCB to provide or refer for contraceptiveand abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching. Religious institutionsshould not be disqualified from a government contract based on religiousbelief, and they do not lose their religious identity or liberty upon enteringsuch contracts. Recently, a federal court judge in Massachusetts turnedreligious liberty on its head when he declared that such a disqualification isrequired by the First Amendment—that the government violates religious libertyby allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a mannerconsistent with their beliefs on contraception and abortion.
The statement lists other examples suchas laws punishing charity to undocumented immigrants; a proposal to restructureCatholic parish corporations to limit the bishop’s role; and a stateuniversity’s excluding a religious student group because it limits leadershippositions to those who share the group’s religion.
Othertopics include the history and deep resonance of Catholic and American visionsof religious freedom, the recent tactic of reducing freedom of religion tofreedom of worship, the distinction between conscientious objection to a justlaw, and civil disobedience of an unjust law, the primacy of religious freedomamong civil liberties, the need for active vigilance in protecting that freedom,and concern for religious liberty among interfaith and ecumenical groups andacross partisan lines.
The bishops decry limiting religiousfreedom to the sanctuary.
“Religiousliberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray theRosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the commongood of all Americans,” they said. “Can we do the good works our faith calls usto do, without having to compromise that very same faith?”
“Thisis not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox,Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue,” they said.
The bishops highlighted religiousfreedom abroad.
“Our obligation at home is to defendreligious liberty robustly, but we cannot overlook the much graver plight thatreligious believers, most of them Christian, face around the world,” they said.“The age of martyrdom has not passed. Assassinations, bombings of churches,torching of orphanages—these are only the most violent attacks Christians havesuffered because of their faith in Jesus Christ. More systematic denials ofbasic human rights are found in the laws of several countries, and also in actsof persecution by adherents of other faiths.”
Thedocument ends with a call to action.
“What we ask is nothing more thanthat our God-given right to religious liberty be respected. We ask nothing lessthan that the Constitution and laws of the United States, which recognize thatright, be respected.” They specifically addressedseveral groups: the laity, those in public office, heads of Catholic charitableagencies, priests, experts in communication, and urged each to employ the giftsand talents of its members for religious liberty.
The bishops called for “A Fortnight for Freedom,” thetwo-week period from June 21 to July 4—beginning with the feasts of St. ThomasMore and St. John Fisher and ending with Independence Day—to focus “all theenergies the Catholic community can muster” for religious liberty. They also asked that, later in the year, the feastof Christ the King be “a day specifically employed by bishops and priests topreach about religious liberty, both here and abroad.”
Members of the Ad Hoc Committee forReligious Liberty include Archbishop-designate William E. Lori of Baltimore,chairman; and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington;Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, ofPhiladelphia; Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta; Archbishop John C.Nienstedt of St. Paul–Minneapolis; Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi, of Mobile,Alabama: Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle; Bishop John O. Barres ofAllentown, Pennsylvania; Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas; BishopThomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix; Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois.Consultants include Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Bishop Stephen E.Blaire of Stockton. California; Bishop Joseph P. McFadden of Harrisburg,Pennsylvania; Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa and Bishop Kevin C.Rhoades of Fort Wayne–South Bend, Indiana.
Keywords: First Freedom, First Amendment, Bill of Rights,Constitution, U.S. Bishops, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, HHS,Health and Human Services, Catholic Charities, Migration and Refugee Services,Religious Liberty Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop-designateWilliam E. Lori, Cardinal Donald Wuerl,Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, ArchbishopJohn C. Nienstedt, Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi,Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, Bishop John O. Barres, Bishop Daniel E.Flores, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, Archbishop José H.Gomez, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, Bishop Richard E.Pates, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades
# # # # #MEDIA CONTACT ONLY:Sr. Mary Ann WalshO: 202-541-3200M: 301-325-7935Email
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