July 4, 2014

Archbishop Tobin shares his thoughts on recent court decisions

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.RThe Catholic bishops of the United States have asked us all to observe a two-week period of prayer, reflection and action, June 21–July 4, known as the “Fortnight for Freedom.” The timing turns out to be providential because in the midst of the Fortnight some important decisions affecting our state and our nation have been made by federal courts.

These decisions speak directly to our Catholic view of the world and to our understanding of who we are and how we are called to live as women and men called to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ.

We welcome the ruling of the United States Supreme Court on the case in which two for-profit companies (Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood) sued the government to protect their right to operate their companies according to their religious beliefs, specifically, to not have to provide through their employee insurance programs abortion-inducing drugs and services.

As Catholics, and as Americans, we believe that a society dedicated to freedom and diversity must respect the freedom of its citizens to live and work in accordance with their religious convictions. People do not give up their religious freedom when they open a family business. They should not have to check their values and religious convictions at the door when they enter the marketplace.

Pope Francis strongly affirms this in his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel, #255) when he says, “A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques.”

Catholics in the United States have been longstanding advocates of universal, accessible and life-affirming health care. Yet the federal government’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate sought to penalize harshly us and others who could not, in good conscience, provide drugs and services that violate our religious beliefs.

In fact, HHS exempts employers with millions of employees from the mandate for commercial and political reasons, but sought to impose severe fines on family businesses that request an exemption for religious reasons. We believe it is unconstitutional and morally wrong for the government to favor secular reasons over religious reasons when providing exemptions. We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of this fundamental principle of religious freedom.

In addition to this Supreme Court ruling on religious freedom, several federal courts have recently ruled against state laws that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and therefore ban “same-sex marriage.”

Just last week, Richard L. Young, chief judge of the United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, attempted to redefine the institution of marriage as an emotional partnership between two consenting adults regardless of gender. This ruling ignores the fundamental and natural truth of marriage and opens its definition to the whims of public opinion.

The Roman Catholic bishops of Indiana immediately issued a joint statement that affirmed our deep respect for all our brothers and sisters regardless of their sexual orientation. At the same time, we expressed our serious opposition to any definition of marriage that seeks to change its fundamental meaning beyond that of a covenant between one man and one woman. Our position on this matter seeks only the common good of all men and women as well as the health and well-being of families.

As pastors, we bishops of Indiana will continue to preach and teach the truth of marriage as it is ordered by God, encouraging all people to embrace the fullness of that truth, while upholding the dignity of all persons. We will continue to work through the Indiana Catholic Conference to encourage our legislators and judges to uphold this truth as well. We urge all involved in this issue to conduct themselves with mutual respect and civility in public discourse.

Two weeks ago, in preparation for the Fortnight for Freedom, I wrote the following:

Our ancestors knew that real freedom requires commitment, generosity and the willingness to serve others. Theirs was not a self-centered freedom. It was a determined effort to live as God intended us to live—in communion with one another, in harmony with nature (creation) and in fidelity to God’s will. The pioneering women and men who shaped our nation were willing to fight for freedom and for the religious values, political principles and economic systems that they believed guaranteed a better way of life for them and for future generations.

Recent court decisions underscore the importance of fighting for our freedom and for the religious values, political principles and economic systems that we believe are essential to the American way of life. No government has the authority to infringe on these basic human rights.

As we celebrate our independence on July 4, let’s all give thanks to God for this great nation. Let’s also commit to preserving and defending the fundamental principles that have made us, and kept us, free. Happy Independence Day!

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R
Archbishop of Indianapolis

 

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