Bishops Launch Hard-Hitting Campaign for Religious Freedom

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 12, 2012   |   11:35AM   |   Washington, DC

The nation’s Catholic bishops have launched a new hard-hitting campaign supporting religious freedom with a new statement that pointedly takes on the new mandate the Obama administration put in place forcing groups to pay for birth control and abortion-causing drugs.

The Catholic bishops steadfastly opposed any “accommodation” with “unjust” laws and put forward plans for prayer, education and other initiatives to protect their rights from an overreaching federal government.

The statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty,” was issued by the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, proposes that “June 21 — the vigil of the feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More — to July 4, Independence Day, be dedicated to this ‘fortnight for freedom.’”

In particular, we recommend to our brother bishops that we focus “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” in a special way this coming summer. As pastors of the flock, our privileged task is to lead the Christian faithful in prayer.

Both our civil year and liturgical year point us on various occasions to our heritage of freedom. This year, we propose a special “fortnight for freedom,” in which bishops in their own dioceses might arrange special events to highlight the importance of defending our first freedom. Our Catholic institutions also could be encouraged to do the same, especially in cooperation with other Christians, Jews, people of other faiths, and indeed, all who wish to defend our most cherished freedom.

“We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other,” it says. “Our allegiances are distinct, but they need not be contradictory, and should instead be complementary. That is the teaching of our Catholic faith, which obliges us to work together with fellow citizens for the common good of all who live in this land. That is the vision of our founding and our Constitution, which guarantees citizens of all religious faiths the right to contribute to our common life together.”

The statement directly takes on the “HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.”

It says:  “The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services has received wide attention and has been met with our vigorous and united opposition. In an unprecedented way, the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty. These features of the “preventive services” mandate amount to an unjust law. As Archbishop-designate William Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, testified to Congress: “This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.”



The statement also says Catholic groups face government discrimination because they do not refer for abortions.

It says:  “Notwithstanding years of excellent performance by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require us 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 somehow lose their religious identity or liberty upon entering such contracts. And yet a federal court in Massachusetts, turning religious liberty on its head, has since declared that such a disqualification is required by the First Amendment—that the government somehow violates religious liberty by allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a manner consistent with their beliefs on contraception and abortion.

The bishops say all Americans should celebrate their pursuit for religious freedom.

“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,” it says. “The Christian church does not ask for a special treatment, simply the rights of religious freedom for all citizens. Rev. King also explained that the church is neither the master nor the servant of the state, but its conscience, guide, and critic.”