February 24, 2012

Be Our Guest / Sr. Diane Carollo, S.G.L.

Religious conscience and the Obama administration

What does the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 have in common with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) mandate on contraception?

The Fugitive Slave Act attempted to enlist every citizen in the United States to assist in the capture and return of fugitive slaves to their owners.

Of course, the abolitionists—people opposed to the restriction of human freedom—disregarded the attempts of the government to coerce them to act against their consciences.

Catholics and other religious entities in the United States today find themselves confronted by the HHS mandate that asks them to violate their consciences by cooperating in “intrinsically evil practices” that are promoted as “women’s health care.”

Like the abolitionists, Catholics must never allow themselves to be coerced into formal cooperation with evil.

The good news is that President Barack Obama and his administration’s decision to impose on Catholic institutions the requirement to provide and pay for contraceptives, abortifacient drugs and sterilizations next year has backfired.

Clearly, the HHS mandate assaulted our First Amendment rights. What the Obama administration underestimated was the response of the Catholic hierarchy to the real threat against the Church’s divine mission and public witness.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. It states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The HHS mandate is so dangerous because it effectively denies to Catholics and other religious entities the right to practice what they preach, and live their faith in accordance with their consciences.

Does Obama think that he can effectively suppress the teachings of the Church and her mission by emulating the practices of world leaders who oppose the freedom of conscience and religious liberties?

In recent days, the president has proposed a compromise to the problem of forcing Catholic institutions to violate their consciences. However, the bishops of the United States, though committed to “life-affirming health care for all,” remain cautious and focused on their objections to the “preventive services for women” issued by HHS.

Catholic Americans must wake from their political stupor and act responsibly in the political arena, especially in the upcoming elections.

Our political action and behavior in the voting booth must reflect what is best for the common good. What is best for the common good is always what is in accord with sound moral principles. Let’s get back to the basics!

To read the most recent comments by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the attacks against religious liberty, log on to wwwusccb.org/conscience.

On the bishops’ website, you will also find an “action alert” and a video by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York on the ongoing crisis on religious liberty.

(Servants of the Gospel of Life Sister Diane Carollo is director of the archdiocesan Office for Pro-Life Ministry.)

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