Friday, June 21, 2013

Fanfare for the Fortnight for Freedom

NY Archbishop Timothy Dolan
Today is the start of the second Fortnight for Freedom as urged by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops.  It is a period of  prayer, fasting, education and action to preserve the fundamental natural right that is enshrined in the Bill of Rights–the Freedom of Religion.  This effort was started last year by USCCB President New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan

Appreciating the First Amendment is particularly poignant as there are so many challenges to religious liberty and the freedom of conscience, such as the HHS Qualified Health Plan Mandate (a.k.a. the Contraception, Sterilization and Abortifacient rider), the exclusion of non-compliant adoption organizations who will not service same-sex couples, states which have approved , states co-ercing traditional marriage believers to conform to same-sex so called marriage, the military labeling Catholics and Evangelicals as extremist groups for upholding their moral beliefs, military chaplains being forced out of service if they did not tow the new Politically Correct line on homosexuality.

When President Obama marked Religious Freedom Day in 2013, he framed religious liberty as the “freedom to worship as we choose.”  That might have been acceptable public policy shorthand, but such a charitable assessment is not borne out by the actions of the Obama Administration.   This is especially exemplified in the HHS contraception mandate.

 After the initial hue and cry when the Obama Administration aborted religious liberty with the Obamacare requiring free contraception, Mr. Obama supposedly backtracked by rescinding this reviled regulation.  But as it turned out, the Obama Administration was just obfuscating authority regarding religious liberty.  The rule for “free” contraception  supposedly would not be applied to objecting churches themselves but would be effectively passed along by the insurance companies who were forced to pick up the tab for the unconscionable inclusions.  However, this so called contraception compromise did not cover religiously affiliated groups, like religious orders, parochial schools etc...  Moreover many of these organizations self-insure, so it still passed along these contraception costs for them.  Furthermore,  the same day that President Obama gave the public remarks about the contraception compromise, the Federal Register published the final rule for the Qualified Health Plan mandate with language that was unchanged from August 11, 2011.  Mr. Obama’s contraception compromise did allow religious organizations to delay implementation for one year, or as Cardinal Dolan joked that: "We were given an extra year to change our morals."

Pope Francis
While some may dismiss the contraception controversy as it seems like a Catholic thing, those who care about religious liberty need to delve deeper.  These regulations are defining what qualifies as a church in a narrow and strangling manner To receive First Amendment protections, the Obama Administration believes that an entity serve only who hold the same creed and serve only those professing the same faith.  Aside from the absurdness of having a government bureaucrat defining what “Church” is, this understanding of freedom of worship misses the point.  As Baltimore Archbishop William Lori points out : "Religious freedom protects more than the freedom to worship on Sunday; it also  protects our ability to live out our faith the other six days of the week."  Pope Francis also extolled: “We are not called to be part-time Christians...[W]e’re called to live our faith at every moment of every day.”

Religiously affiliated adoption agencies in three states and DC- the District of Calamity (sic)  have been forced out of business because their organizations will not work with same-sex couples. Catholic charitable organizations have been criticized for withdrawing from immigrant programs which endorse Gay Marriage.   Religious hospitals who maintain their ethical values will either need to serve their own flock or close down if they do not accede to the abortion requirements of Obamacare.

But it is not just faithful Catholics who are under assault for upholding their faith in America.  The Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School had to go to the United States Supreme Court to receive approbation to fire a called minister.  Despite the 9-0 ruling from the nation’s high court in January 2012, the Obama Administration foisted the contraception clause on America the next week.

The assault on religious liberty is being waged by more than the Obama Administration.  New York City instituted a new policy which prevented the Bronx Household of Faith and other small religious groups from renting space in public schools on weekends even though other non-religious groups could do so. Christian groups on college campuses are being denied recognition (and funding) when they require their leaders to be Christians and strive to live a chaste life as being discriminatory.

Great Maryland Seal
Rhode Island 1st Gov. Seal

The Puritans were Englishmen who were self-exiled to Holland at the beginning of the Seventeenth Century so that they could have religious liberty.  They decided to come to America so that they could raise their children as Englishmen who could have religious liberty in the New World. Roger Williams was a theologian forced out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who founded what became “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” in 1636 which separated church authority from religious authority.  Maryland was settled by Cæcilius Calvert, the 2nd Lord Baltimore and others as a refuge for English Catholics.  The Maryland Religious Tolerance Act of 1649 was  first law ever to guarantee the right to worship regardless of denomination.

Secular society has been championing a concept that America was founded on a separation of church and state and that religion was ancillary to education of the times.  While it is true that there is not a state religion, history shows the profound motivation of our founders to pursue religious liberty.   The Fortnight for Freedom should remind us of our proud history of religious liberty and point out how state incursions are strangling this fundamental freedom.  Part of this education about religious liberty should include how sweeping state regulation of secular values will end vital social services in adoption, immigration, adoption, feeding the destitute and health care by religious groups which are serious about their core beliefs.

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