PHILADELPHIA, April 5, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Echoing the statements of Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George, who in February warned that the HHS birth control mandate will close Catholic hospitals and universities or force them to secularize, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said in a National Review interview that the “mandate debate has serious implications,” and that “shutting down services is very much a possibility if the circumstances require it.”

“We can’t violate what we believe as Catholics in order to do good works as Catholics. That doesn’t make any sense,” Archbishop Chaput said.

The bishop also said that “casting the struggle as a birth-control fight is just a shrewd form of dishonesty,” and that religious liberty is the real target of the Obama administration.

“The central issue in the HHS-mandate debate isn’t contraception,” the archbishop stated. “The central issue in the HHS debate is religious liberty.”

“The government doesn’t have the right to force religious believers and institutions to violate their religious convictions. But that’s exactly what the White House is doing.”

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Cardinal George had likened the Obama administration’s rhetorical shift from supporting “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship,” to Russia’s constitutional freedom to worship guarantee under communism, when the state controlled the church.

“Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union,” Cardinal George said. “You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship—no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long Cold War to defeat that vision of society.”

“The State is making itself into a church,” he added.

Archbishop Chaput warned that unless people keep alive their constitutional right to freedom of religion with their convictions and lived witness, the Constitution itself is basically worthless.

“The most important thing [Catholics] can do is realize that constitutional guarantees are just scraps of elegant prose unless people fight to keep them alive,” Archbishop Chaput said.

“This country has no special immunity to anti-religious bigotry in our courts and legislatures. If we don’t press our lawmakers to defend the rights of religious believers and communities, then we’ll lose those rights.”

“It’s already happening,” the archbishop concluded.