June 8, 2012

Editorial

Stewards of religious liberty

My guess is that most Catholics in the Unites States don’t know what to make of the quarrel between the leaders of our Church and the Obama administration.

Especially since this is taking place during an election year that involves an ever-escalating course of accusations and counter-accusations by representatives of different political parties and interest groups within those parties.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and he doesn’t mince words.

Speaking as the head of one of 43 Catholic organizations that have filed lawsuits that seek to overturn the Obama administration’s infamous abortifacient, contraceptive and sterilization mandate, Cardinal Dolan said, “We have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with Congress—and will keep at it—and there’s still no fix. Time is running out, and our precious ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance so we have to resort to the courts now.”

The New York Times calls the lawsuits “an attack on access to contraception based on bogus claims of religious freedom.” In two fierce editorials, The Times dismissed out of hand the Church’s right to defend its religious freedom. The lawsuits are called “bogus” and “a dramatic stunt, full of indignation, but built on air.”

As has now become common in the news media, attention is drawn to the number of American women, including many Catholics, who use artificial contraceptives. The issue of religious liberty is set aside as “built on air” while the fundamental constitutional issues are not even discussed.

The strategy, which has worked in the past, appears to be: Accuse the Church of being anti-women and of imposing its morality on others, and people will line up against the bishops with their rigid morality and dogmatic teaching.

It’s important that we not let those who would belittle or marginalize religion succeed. Too much is at stake here.

The lawsuits filed by a representative number of Catholic organizations throughout the United States argue that it is unconstitutional for the Obama administration to mandate that the Church provide services to its employees which violate the tenets of its faith—such as contraception, sterilization and abortifacients—or otherwise pay heavy financial penalties.

The Times article blasted the Church, claiming, “The First Amendment is not a license for religious entities to impose their dogma on society through the law.”

Ironically, the situation is exactly the reverse. It is the Obama administration that seeks to impose its secular agenda on religious organizations.

And the so-called exemption supposedly granted to religious institutions is so narrowly defined that only the most introverted and self-serving organizations can qualify.

The lawsuits filed by 43 Catholic groups, including the University of Notre Dame, seek to prevent the government from defining who qualifies as a religious organization. Cardinal Dolan called the move “a compelling display of the unity of the Church in defense of religious liberty.”

Freedom is a precious gift that can never be taken for granted. As Pope Benedict XVI has said, freedom is never won once and for all. Every generation has to win the battle for human freedom all over again in the circumstances of every place and time.

We Americans have received the legacy of religious freedom from our ancestors, who established this nation as a bastion of religious liberty. We have often failed to live up to these ideals, but we have never abandoned them as fundamental principles. Too many wars have been fought, and too much blood has been spilled, in defense of Americans’ right to practice their religious principles without government interference.

That makes us all stewards of the gift of freedom. And we are called to nurture, defend and share generously with others what we have received from our fathers and mothers in faith.

No matter how many of us disagree with, or fail to observe, the precepts of our faith, we are all called to defend them against those who would take away our right to live according to our beliefs.

Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, said it best. If we allow one government agency to define who we are and what our legitimate religious practices can be, what’s to stop other government agencies from using the same tactics to impose on us equally or even more reprehensible actions in the name of political expediency or the common good?

To be good stewards of the gift of religious liberty, we must speak out against the current administration’s abuse of religious liberty.

Let’s not let this issue get lost in the political rhetoric of an extremely partisan election year. Too much is at stake.

—Daniel Conway

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