Efforts to restrict religious liberty break with American traditions and seek to “delegitimize” the Catholic Church’s participation in public debate, said Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami.
“America's ‘first freedom,’ the freedom of religion, is under great stress, if not under outright assault, and not just for Catholics,” Archbishop Wenski wrote in an op-ed April 23.
He said the Health and Human Services mandate requiring insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause abortion represents “an unprecedented intrusion by the federal government.”
The mandate not only forces religious institutions to “facilitate and fund” products and procedures “contrary to their own moral teaching,” he noted, but also defines which institutions are religious enough to meet an exemption.
Archbishop Wenski said the fundamental issue in the mandate debate is “whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.”
“The Church cannot not oppose this unjust (and we believe unconstitutional) mandate,” he said.
The archbishop said the Catholic bishops will seek remedies from both Congress and the courts “rather than facing the shuttering of our schools, universities and hospitals by the federal government.”
Despite the present difficulties, he praised U.S. constitutional guarantees for religious freedom.
“America's first freedom, the freedom of religion, has honored America's diversity by permitting the inclusion of all its citizens in contributing to the common good of all,” he said.
“Separation of church and state does not require the exclusion of religion from society. To exclude people of faith from making their contributions and their proposals in the public square would impoverish us all.”
He suggested the new restrictions are evidence of a “reductive secularism” that has more in common with the French Revolution than with American traditions.
Archbishop Wenski warned of various other threats to religious liberty, including a “draconian” anti-immigrant law in Alabama that he said “criminalizes” Bible classes for undocumented immigrants; the exclusion of Catholic Charities from foster care and adoption services in several states; the State Department’s apparent revision of religious liberty to mean “merely freedom to worship”; and a recent court decision that barred conscience accommodations for federal contractors opposed to abortion.
Such efforts “seek to delegitimize the Church's participation in public debate about issues that will determine the future of American society,” he charged.
The archbishop said the Catholic Church does not seek privileges for herself, but seeks the freedom to advocate her views in the public square and “to witness to them coherently so as to contribute to human flourishing in society.”
He noted that in November Florida voters can vote to approve the Florida ballot initiative Amendment 8 to protect faith-based agencies and organizations from state-level laws and regulations that affect religious freedom.