In a press release issued last week by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops "issued a call to action to defend religious liberty and urged laity to work to protect the First Freedom of the Bill of Rights." Their position statement was outlined in “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” in which the bishops say, “We have been staunch defenders of religious liberty in the past. We have a solemn duty to discharge that duty today … for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad.”
The bishops promise that their campaign will be extensive and go on for a number of years.
Complaints by the Catholic Church.
The bishops name a number of grievances that are spurring them into action, including (quoted from press release):
- The Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate forcing all employers, including religious organizations, to provide and pay for coverage of employees’ contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs even when they have moral objections to them. Another concern is HHS’s defining which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty.
- Driving Catholic foster care and adoption services out of business. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia and Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities adoption or 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 couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.
- Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services. Despite years of excellent performance by the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require USCCB to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching. Religious institutions should not be disqualified from a government contract based on religious belief, and they do not lose their religious identity or liberty upon entering such contracts. Recently, a federal court judge in Massachusetts turned religious liberty on its head when he declared that such a disqualification is required by the First Amendment—that the government violates religious liberty by allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a manner consistent with their beliefs on contraception and abortion.
The statement lists other examples such as laws punishing charity to undocumented immigrants; a proposal to restructure Catholic parish corporations to limit the bishop’s role; and a state university’s excluding a religious student group because it limits leadership positions to those who share the group’s religion.
The bishops say,
Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. “Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith?
This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.
International Christian Persecution.
In the position statement, the bishops highlighted religious freedom abroad.
“Our obligation at home is to defend religious liberty robustly, but we cannot overlook the much graver plight that religious 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 have suffered because of their faith in Jesus Christ. More systematic denials of basic human rights are found in the laws of several countries, and also in acts of persecution by adherents of other faiths.”
"A Fortnight for Freedom" and Massive Activities Planned.
The document ends with a call to action. “What we ask is nothing more than that our God-given right to religious liberty be respected. We ask nothing less than that the Constitution and laws of the United States, which recognize that right, be respected.” They specifically addressed several groups: the laity, those in public office, heads of Catholic charitable agencies, priests, experts in communication, and urged each to employ the gifts and talents of its members for religious liberty.
The bishops called for “A Fortnight for Freedom,” the two-week period from June 21 to July 4—beginning with the feasts of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher and ending with Independence Day—to focus “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” for religious liberty. They also asked that, later in the year, the feast of Christ the King be “a day specifically employed by bishops and priests to preach about religious liberty, both here and abroad.”
Having to Comply with the Law When Taking Public Money Does Not Deny Religious Liberty.
Lauren Anderson Youngblood, Communications Manager of the Secular Coalition for America is critical of the bishops' remarks, pointing out that the church is equating loss of privilege with liberty:
True religious freedom is the ability to practice your religion and hold your religious beliefs, as long as those beliefs and practices do not infringe upon the religious freedom others, break the laws of the country we live in, or expect special government privileging. The secular character of our government is the best guarantee of the freedom for people of all religions to protect this right—whether they are Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, or any other religion —or non-religion.
The truth is that religious liberty does not mean that the government should excuse any person or organization from following the law based on their religion, nor does it mean that the government should fund any religious group that uses the funding to further its religious agenda. Religious institutions are not above the law, nor are they entitled to special treatment or funding.
To push its massive attack on true religious liberty, the USCCB is pushing a false definition of religious freedom—and it will be massive.
"This is bigger in that it's not a one-time thing, not aiming for a specific Sunday" said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the communications director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a CNN article. "It's going to be extensive and it's going to be occurring over a few years."
Youngblood also demonstrates that the complaints outlined by the bishops are not an infringement on their religious liberties, but rather the bishops' belief that the government should fund Catholic organizations even if their services are substandard or do not comply with the law:
In a statement, the USCCB cited seven examples of what they say are violations of religious freedom. One of the complaints took issue with the federal government for refusing to reauthorize a grant to a Catholic organization that was supposed to serve the victims of sex trafficking but refused to provide or refer the victims to services for abortion and birth control. In other words, they are complaining that they lost a government contract, after they refused to provide the very people they were supposed to be helping, with the necessary care.
In its statement, the USCCB also complained that some states are cutting off contracts to Catholic agencies that discriminate in state adoptions. They also complained about the HHS regulation that religious institutions are not exempt from offering insurance coverage that includes contraception care. Not only did the USCCB complain that they were held to the same laws that secular organization are held to—they feel the government should fund Catholic organizations even if they break the laws of the land.
Youngblood backs her claims with a number of legal citations and other references, which can be read at the Secular Coalition for America website.
Bishop Says President Obama Following the Path of Hitler and Stalin, Telling All Catholic Believers to Vote their Catholic Consciences.
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, may have given America an example of the sermons about religious liberty that the Conference of Bishops is urging priests and bishops to preach when he suggested during his homily on Saturday that President Obama was following the same path as Hitler and Stalin:
Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and healthcare. In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, President Obama, with his radical pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.
Now things have come to such a pass in our beloved country that this is a battle we could lose. But before the awesome judgment seat of Almighty God, this is not a battle where any believing Catholic may remain neutral. This fall, every practicing believer must vote and must vote with their Catholic consciences or by the following fall, our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries — only excepting church buildings — could easily be shut down.