Thu Aug 9, 2012 - 12:43 pm EST
Let religious freedom ring
August 9, 2012 (HLIAmerica.org) - The Catholic Church is being challenged in many ways in our time. We Catholics have just participated in the “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign, which alerted the people of our country that religious freedom is threatened by government policies. Here in San Antonio various events marked the observance — Masses, a letter on the issue by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, parish events of various kinds, an ecumenical meeting, the ringing of church bells on July 1, etc. All Americans were being forewarned, for it is not only Catholics who are at risk but people of all faiths.
In June, the main provisions of Obamacare were declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. But Catholics are threatened by the government demands to provide contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilizations in insurance coverage. The Supreme Court decision did not deal with this. Dozens of court cases have been instituted by various Catholic groups claiming that the demands violate conscience, but these cases are still wending their way through the judicial process toward the Supreme Court.
It is important for us to realize that even if the contraceptive issue is resolved, we dare not relax. Last October, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Catholic bishops’ committee on religious liberty, addressed Congress. He told the legislators that religious freedom in America had become “subject to ever more frequent assault and ever more rapid erosion.” And he cited not only the contraceptive mandate but also other examples of government intrusion: 1) cutting off funding to the Catholic bishops’ conference to assist victims of sexual trafficking because the conference would not include abortion and contraception as part of the program; 2) the refusal on the part of the government to defend marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman; 3) the defining of “ministerial exceptions” in narrow ways that do not protect people’s conscience; etc.
In January, Pope Benedict speaking to a group of American bishops on an ad limina visit, noted that the American experience had included a consensus that religion deserved public respect, but “that consensus … has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents, which are increasingly hostile to Christianity itself.”
“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” according to an old saying. It is applicable today for all Catholics. The current campaign to legalize same-sex “marriage” is an issue of great consequence, since marriage is the basis of civil society. Some people are pessimistic, feeling that the legalization of such marriages in the United States is inevitable. They cite the example of states which have already legalized them and the support of President Barack Obama. However, 31 states have amended their Constitutions to clearly define marriage as between a man and a woman. The legislation was brought about by vote of the citizens of the state. In another state (Maine), voters repealed passage of a bill endorsing same-sex marriages. If we count the total number of states in which a marriage license is given only for a man-woman marriage, the total is 42! The battle is on but the war is not over by any means.
The “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign extended for two weeks. Its spirit needs to continue. And future campaigns need to be inaugurated—campaigns that continue to alert Catholics and others to the risks to our first freedom. The Founding Fathers when they enumerated our basic rights as citizens placed free exercise of religion first. They knew what they were doing.
Father John A. Leies, SM, STD, is president emeritus of St. Mary’s University where he was head of the Theology Department. His recent writings may be found on Human Life International’s Truth and Charity Forum. A version of this article appeared in Today’s Catholic, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.