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Government can't impose practices on Catholic Church

There was a time when Catholics here in the United States were regarded with great suspicion by their mostly Protestant neighbors.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as the numbers of Catholics grew because of immigration; many thought that these immigrants who accepted the religious authority of a Pope could never be successfully integrated into the American experiment of democracy.  Fortunately, the civil liberties granted by our Constitution allowed Catholics, in spite of these prejudices, to prosper in America.   The Constitution guaranteed citizens of all religious faiths the right to contribute to the common life together.  And, as Catholics and as Americans, we can take some holy pride in pointing out our own contributions.  We built schools, orphanages, hospitals, universities; we served in our nation’s wars, we founded businesses, we served in public office, etc.  We were no less Catholic for being American; and no less American for being Catholic.

However, today, America’s “first freedom”, the freedom of religion, is under great stress if not under outright assault – and not just for Catholics. Alabama’s draconian anti-immigrant legislation “criminalizes” bible classes for irregular (undocumented) immigrants. The federal government recently attempted to redefine for churches the definition of “religious minister” or “religious employee” (EEOC vs. Hosanna-Tabor). In several states, Catholic Charities have had their licenses revoked to provide foster care and adoption services. A radical rereading of the First Amendment protections has resulted in concerted efforts to deny right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices (ACLU vs. Sebelius). The State Department in its analysis of the state of religious liberty in the world also seems to have reduced freedom of religion to mean merely freedom to worship.  And even more ominous is the HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion inducing drugs represents.  This represents an unprecedented intrusion by the Federal government to force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching.  The mandate purports to define which religious institutions are “religious” enough to merit the protection of their religious liberty.

The Church cannot not oppose this unjust (and we believe unconstitutional) mandate. It 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.

These efforts to restrict religious liberty are seemingly founded in a reductive secularism that has more in common with the French Revolution than with America’s founding.  They seek to delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about issues that will determine the future of American society.

As the Pope told Castro in Cuba, in upholding this basic human right to religious freedom the Church is not seeking any privileges for herself.  The Church does not seek to impose her views but seeks the freedom to propose them in the public square and to witness to them coherently so as to contribute to human flourishing in society.  

Rather than facing the shuttering of our schools, universities and hospitals by the federal government we will seek remedies from both the Congress and the Courts.  Here in Florida, we also have the opportunity in November to vote to approve the “Freedom of Religion” Amendment 8.  This amendment will protect faith based agencies and organizations from further erosions of religious freedom at the state level.

America’s first freedom, the freedom of religion, has honored America’s diversity by permitting the inclusion of all its citizens in contributing to the common good of all. The stakes are high. Separation of Church and State does not require the exclusion of religion from society.  To exclude people of faith from making their contributions and their proposals in the public square would impoverish us all. 

Comments from readers

celi - 04/28/2012 12:34 PM
I appreciate this week's Archbishop Wenski's column and his outcry to defend religious freedom. With the upcoming November elections, Florida voters will be faced with many major electoral decisions. One of these is Amendment 8 which deals with the "separation of church and state", a term that presently confuses many people.

It is my hope that your publication will carry the Archbishop's torch and continue to inform voters, from now until election time, through a series of "mini articles"on this topic. Voters' awarenes and understanding are paramount when special legislature is at stake, especially those laws that alter adversely the basic freedoms our Founding Fathers seeked to preserve.
Laurel - 04/28/2012 07:27 AM
...it is the ecclesiastical and not the secular arm which must defend us. -St. Teresa of Avila.
Let us pray for our bishops and priests as the lead us out of this mess.

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