June 26, 2013 // Uncategorized

The right to religious freedom

The following is an excerpt from the homily of Bishop Rhoades at the opening of the Fortnight for Freedom Mass on June 22, the Memorial of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

The courageous witness of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More are examples for us today. We ask for their intercession as we strive to defend religious liberty in our country and throughout the world. Though in our country today we do not face the cruelty and brutality that confronted Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, we are facing challenges to our sacred religious freedom as well as governmental interference in the internal life of the Church.

The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services coerces religious believers to act against our most deeply held beliefs in violation of our Constitution, our laws, and our long tradition of religious liberty. That is why our diocese and several other Catholic institutions of our diocese and throughout our country are suing the federal government. The HHS mandate is unjust and unlawful.

This isn’t about the Catholic Church trying to force its beliefs on others. It is about the government trying to force its beliefs on the Catholic Church. It is a direct violation of our religious liberty to force the Church and its institutions, as well as individuals, business owners, insurers, etc. to violate our own teachings by facilitating and funding sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception.

The government’s proposed “accommodation,” rather than an “exemption” for our institutions like Catholic Charities, our hospitals, and universities, is still very unjust. Though the “accommodation” offers to have insurers or other third parties impose the objectionable coverage, it still deprives us of the ability to provide health coverage to our employees that is consistent with our values and it disregards the conscience rights of both insurers and employees. However the funding is worked out, the simple offer of health coverage by a religious employer would become the trigger for ensuring that all our employees receive morally objectionable services in their health plans.

There are other threats to religious liberty in our nation. We have experienced discrimination against Catholic adoption and foster care services because, when placing children with couples, we make sure they enjoy the advantage of having a mother and a father who are married. We have seen discrimination against our USCCB Migration and Refugee Services because we will not provide or refer for contraception and abortion. Some states have tried to make it criminal for us to provide Christian charity and pastoral care to undocumented immigrants. I could give other examples. One of the most troubling threats to religious liberty is that which is arising from the redefinition of marriage.

The threat to religious freedom is larger than any single case or issue. It has its roots in the growing secularism of our culture, a secularism that seeks to marginalize the Church from culture and society.

During the Fortnight for Freedom, we also remember our brothers and sisters throughout the world who suffer attacks on their religious liberty; in many cases, they suffer violence and open persecution. We pray especially for Christians in Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Nigeria. We pray not only for Christians, but for people of any faith whose liberty is assaulted or denied. Ongoing and escalating attacks against religious believers occur throughout the world.

The right to religious freedom is founded upon the intrinsic dignity of the human person. This is an issue of justice since the human person has a right to religious freedom. As Catholics, we must not waver in our defense of this sacred right. “What can we do?”, many ask me.

#1. Pray for the protection of religious liberty and increased respect for the role of faith in public life.

#2. Contact our legistators, urging their support of H.R. 940, the Health Care Conscience Rights Act.

#3. Educate yourselves and your family, friends, and neighbors on this issue. Many educational resources are available on the USCCB website and the special website www.Fornight4Freedom.org

We must all be united in our support of religious liberty. May Saints John Fisher and Thomas More intercede for us, that this Fortnight for Freedom in our diocese and throughout our country will further this noble cause.

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