The struggle between a vision of an exclusively secularized public policy and the right of people of faith to practice their religion freely was highlighted over a two-week period leading up to Independence Day.
The Fortnight for Freedom, called for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in response to threats to religious liberty, gave Catholics and other supporters a chance to pray, fast and deepen their understanding of issues surrounding religious liberty.
In the midst of the 14 days, the conversation was ratcheted up by the June 28 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The high court’s 5-4 ruling that the law’s so-called “individual mandate,” requiring most Americans to carry health insurance, is constitutional was a disappointment for many Catholics and pro-life Americans. But the decision allowed 23 lawsuits against the federal government to go forward, challenging another “mandate” — a requirement for co-pay-free provision of contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs, with a very limited exemption for religious organizations.
At Masses and rallies, in writings and town hall-style meetings, bishops, priests and others across the country spoke out against the mandate, authorized under the Affordable Care Act.
“We live in a time that calls for sentinels and public witness,” said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who spoke during the fortnight’s closing Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, July 4. “Every Christian in every era faces the same task. But you and I are responsible for this moment. Today. Now. We need to ‘speak out,’ not only for religious liberty and the ideals of the nation we love, but for the sacredness of life and the dignity of the human person — in other words, for the truth of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.”
Two weeks earlier, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, celebrated the opening Mass for the period of prayer and fasting. Speaking to a full Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, the archbishop linked the saints whose memorial would be marked by the Church the next day, Thomas More and John Fisher, with the religious-liberty challenges of America’s settlers.
“Their courageous witness of faith continues to stir the minds and hearts of people yearning for authentic freedom and, specifically, for religious freedom, just as it inspired those who came to Maryland a century later in 1634, seeking not only to worship God freely, but, indeed, to practice their faith publicly.”
He reminded the congregation that on Aug. 1 the Health and Human Services “preventive-services mandate” will go into effect, forcing private employers to violate their consciences by funding and facilitating morally objectionable acts.
“As the United States bishops recently indicated, the HHS mandate violates the personal civil rights of those who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and values,” said the archbishop.
Archbishop Lori has continuously defended the rights of individual Catholics against the HHS mandate, even as many seek to focus on the defense of Catholic institutions.
Coast to Coast
In Los Angeles, Archbishop José Gomez said that any compromise that means Catholic institutions provide contraceptive insurance to employees is “capitulation” and “the temptation to serve the government instead of God.”
The Church “doesn’t serve the poor to please the government,” he said. Rather, Catholics serve the poor “because we are compelled by the love of Christ.” This love also compels Catholics to testify to the sacredness of life, marriage and family and to testify that “preventing children from being born is immoral.”
The archbishop’s comments came in his June 21 essay “Fortnight for Freedom: Why Now?” published on the website of First Things magazine.
Archbishop Gomez acknowledged in his essay that Americans enjoy great religious freedoms compared to other countries around the world.
However, he said that religious freedom in the U.S. is still in jeopardy due to an “eroding” American consensus on religious liberty, conscience protection and the role of religion in public life.
He blamed religious indifferentism and also “constant agitation from de-Christianizing and secularizing elements in American society.”
Archbishop Gomez said that while secularization has happened for some time, the government has taken on a new role. Instead of observing its duty to protect religious liberty, the government has “taken sides against the liberty of the nation’s largest religious community.”
“It’s hard to escape the conclusion that our present conflict is part of a larger cultural struggle to redefine America as a purely secular society — a society in which religious institutions have no legitimate public role unless they are serving the government’s purposes,” he said.
In response to these trends, the archbishop called on Christians to love their enemies and “resist their evil with good.”
In New York, the president of the USCCB, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, celebrated a Friday morning Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, June 22.
“Sometimes, throughout our nation’s history, we have had to lift our hands in defense and take up arms to defend our sacred liberties,” Cardinal Dolan said in his homily before about 250 worshippers. “Today we lift up our hands in prayer, to thank God for them and ask him to protect them.”
“Our rights, as the founders of our beloved nation often observed, come from almighty God,” Cardinal Dolan said. “Therefore, no earthly power or government can take them away. If that first and most cherished of freedom — freedom of religion — goes, then the other freedoms are in jeopardy.”
In Boston, Cardinal Seán O’Malley hosted a town hall-style discussion of current challenges during a nationally televised forum.
“Religious liberty is our first freedom on which all others depend; it’s not a right granted by our government — it’s a right that precedes our government. Religion is an essential aspect of the common good,” said the cardinal June 25.
Joining the archbishop of Boston and the live studio audience was John Garvey, the president of The Catholic University of America; Kim Daniels, an attorney and coordinator for Catholic Voices USA; and Angela Franks, a theology director for the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization (TINE) at Saint John’s Seminary in Boston. Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, also provided statements, which were sent remotely.
Cardinal O’Malley pointed out the tie between the preservation of American religious liberty and the country’s involvement in fighting religious persecution abroad.
“The age of martyrdom has not passed, and if religious freedom is eroded here at home, American defense of religious liberty abroad is less credible,” said the cardinal.
Cardinal O’Malley recalled the situation of Catholic Charities in Massachusetts being run out of providing adoption services. The archdiocese and Catholic Charities decided to stop offering adoption services altogether in 2006, when it would be required by Massachusetts state law to place children with same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples.
In an interview with the Register, Cardinal O’Malley said that Catholic Charities was established in Massachusetts for the purpose of adoption and that it had been operating for over a century.
“We had such a wonderful track record. We were the largest provider of this service and did such extraordinary work — and then to have to give that up because we were being threatened that all government funding, even our licenses, would be taken away from us if we didn’t violate our own principles,” said Cardinal O’Malley.
Garvey illustrated how CUA would be affected by mandate fines for non-compliance. He said not covering contraception and the like could cost the school $2,000 per full-time employee each year, to a tune of $2.6 million annually.
Garvey, a constitutional law expert, said the framers of the U.S. Constitution protected freedom of religion, as they thought it “important for human flourishing and happiness.” He said that society “won’t care about protecting religious freedom for long if it doesn’t care about God.”
“We won’t have — and we probably won’t need — religious exemptions for nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers if no one is practicing their religion,” said Garvey. “The best way to protect religious freedom might be to remind people that they should love God.”
Several thousand people, including about 100 people from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., turned out for a rally at the Kansas Statehouse in Wichita June 29. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a Catholic convert and former presidential candidate, urged perseverance in the battle.
“Freedom is a gift from God, not a privilege a government is entitled to take away,” Brownback said. “This unconscionable mandate must not be allowed to stand, and by your prayers and work, it will not be allowed to stand. Keep fighting for as long as it takes.”
The Kansas Catholic Conference estimated the crowd at the rally, which took place under temperatures reaching 100 degrees, at about 4,000, according to The Associated Press.
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., said that while the Church is active in combating other ills, such as poverty, “This strikes at our very identity.”
Catholic News Agency
contributed to this article.
Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.
Matt Archbold writes
Justin Bell from Boston.