WHAT IS ALL THIS STUFF ABOUT RELIGIOUS LIBERTY?
As Americans, as well as Catholics, we are called to guard and defend religious liberty. We must have freedom to follow our consciences and practice our religion if we expect to be able to do the work to which our Lord calls us. We are so used to the media hype, which tends to sensationalize anything and everything which the government is doing. This unfortunately can desensitize us to something that is worth getting upset over and inevitably should motive us to act. As the U.S. Bishops write “We address an urgent summons to our fellow Catholics and fellow Americans to be on guard, for religious liberty is under attack, both home and abroad.” (from the 2012 statement Our First, Most Cherished Liberty)
This call to action should alarm us. It is necessary. What is at stake? To the degree that the government marginalizes or silences religious voices and institutions, we’ll find ourselves living in a very different society. Religious/moral teachings and institutions will be less visible and influential.
What is the current dispute and what is the HHS Mandate? It is over a recent rule from the federal Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS) requiring virtually all health insurance policies to include, without co-pay, coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. The mandate contains a narrow religious exemption only for those religious institutions that primarily hire and serve people from their own faith communities. As noted by several Catholic leaders, neither Jesus nor Mother Teresa would qualify for this exemption.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, testified before Congress about this mandate: “This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter 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 mandate for religious institutions is scheduled to go into effect approximately one year after the fall 2012 election. There are a few things we should know about the mandate. It does not exempt Catholic charities, schools, universities, or hospitals. It forces these institutions and others, against their conscience, to pay for things they consider immoral. You know this has to be serious with our present political divide that Catholic from all political persuasions are unified in their opposition to the mandate.
Our bishops are clear “Our faith requires us to defend the religious liberty granted us by God, and protected in our constitution. We encourage you to hold firm to stand fast and to insist upon what belongs to you by right is Catholics and Americans. Our Country deserves the best we have to offer, including our resistance to violations of our first freedom.”