Religious Liberty – Fortnight of Freedom
6/23/13 5:15 PM
Homily text below:
From this past Friday, June 21st, until July 4, the Bishops of the United States
have asked Catholics around the country to participate in what they are calling “A
Fortnight for Freedom.” During this time period, Catholics are being called to better
understand the serious and very real threats that are being posed to our Religious
Liberty right here, right now, in very own national backyard. Religious Liberty has
always been a hallmark of the American experience. This right is protected for us by
the First Amendment–”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It was a liberty of the utmost
importance in the minds of our founding fathers. James Madison, the man who drafted
the Bill of Rights, is recorded saying the following about the importance of Religious
“We hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion, or the duty to which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only
by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”
And Although our founding fathers and Constitution aimed to protect our Religious Liberty, they do not give us…or create for us Religious Liberty. Religious Liberty is a basic human right, given to each of us by God. It is so much more than just a right to worship God where and how we want. It is a right to live in the truth of one’s faith, to contribute to the common good of society and to follow one’s conscience in an effort to direct one’s life towards God–man’s ultimate fulfillment. Therefore, it is a right which is not confined to the walls of our Churches and other spaces of worship, but rather one which reaches out to every aspect of our lives. For this reason, Blessed John Paul II said that Religious Liberty is the MOST fundamental human right because GOD is man’s very reason for living. By including “Religious Liberty” in our Constitution, our founding fathers were acknowledging that because this was a basic, God-given, human right, it was the moral responsibility of the American government to make sure that this right would be protected for all of its citizens.
In agreement with such logic, Pope Benedict commented in 2012 that he considers religious liberty to be the “most cherished of American freedoms.” However, in the same breath, Pope Benedict also expressed his serious concern that Religious Liberty in the United States was being limited in several ways. He acknowledged that this phenomenon has its roots in the growing secularization of our society–that mentality which tries to make Religious expression something completely private and individualized. Something that should have no relevance or place in any public space, institution, or policy. It is a mentality which we have seen snowball in other countries in the modern era into atheistic regimes in which religious practice, in particular Catholicism, was outlawed and punished by death. Now we are not quite there yet here in the States, but the efforts to undercut the place of religion in public life is well underway.
For example, our Department of Heath and Human Services has issued a federal mandate that all employers must provide health plans which cover contraceptives, female sterilization, and at least one abortion-inducing drug–all of which are clearly against Catholic moral teaching. A small exemption has been made for some “religious employers” but the federal government will still be deciding which institutions are religious enough to qualify. Consequently, most Catholic schools, universities, hospitals, and charitable agencies will likely not be granted this exemption and thus forced to provide coverage for these things which are in direct violation of our moral convictions. This simply does not make any sense. In this scenario, it is not that Catholics are even trying to prevent the government or anybody else from providing contraceptives, abortions, and the like. It is just that we as Catholics don’t want to be forced to provide them ourselves for those people who of their own free will, work in our institutions. I like how Archbishop Lori of Baltimore framed this situation in a testimony before Congress–”The Government forcing Catholic institutions to provide contraception…is like going into a kosher deli and demanding to be served a ham sandwich.” It really is that comical! I would take it a step further and say, that also, the Government would then FORCE the Kosher deli to put Ham sandwiches on the Menu.
On other fronts, Catholic groups are being deprived of the opportunity to contribute to the common good. For example, in Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the State of Illinois, Catholic Charities have been stripped of their ability to provide adoption and foster cares services-because they refused to place children in homes of both same-sex couples or un-married opposite-sex couples. Again, they were not trying stop other agencies from placing children in such homes, they just did not want to be forced to have to do so themselves because of their Catholic understanding of marriage and a child’s right to be raised in a stable home with a father and a mother, if it is at all possible.
Also, right here in Alabama, we have seen one of the strictest immigration laws in the entire country be passed and implemented. It basically has made it illegal to “harbor” in any way undocumented immigrants. In response to this, our Archbishop Rodi of Mobile and Bishop Baker of Birmingham, along with the Episcopal and Methodist bishops of Alabama filed suit against our state’s law saying that this law basically makes it illegal for us as Christians to exercise our gospel faith which necessitates that we serve the poor and share our faith with all, regardless of their legal status. The bishops felt that the blanket prohibition against “harboring” the undocumented put an unfair burden on Churches in their duty to serve these people.
The wording of the law very well could be interpreted in a way such that any of the following activities could be deemed ILLEGAL– welcoming immigrants to Mass, giving them a ride, counseling them, preparing them for marriage, and inviting them to AA meetings or other recovery groups. Our right to Religious Liberty as Americans should not only allow but COMPEL us to serve such immigrants in our midst. But instead, laws like these are hindering our exercise of evangelical charity.
Christian students have also felt their religious liberties compromised. For example, the University of California Hastings College of Law has recently denied student organization status to the first group in its 100 year history–The Christian Legal Society–because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sex outside of marriage. Anybody could be a member, however, only its leaders had to meet this basic criteria. But because of this–expecting that leaders of a Christian society ought to be and act somewhat Christian–the group was not allowed. The Catholic Student group at Vanderbilt also recently was kicked off campus with the same exact logic–Leaders of the group were required to be Catholic, although anybody could be a member. Both Universities, are championing a situation where it would be possible for an atheist, for example, a person with NO Faith to be President of these faith-based groups.
In all of these situations, the government is more and more treating our “Religious Liberty” as nothing more than “Freedom to Worship”–the freedom to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. But as we have said before, our liberty is much, much grander than that–It is a God-given right which ought to color everything we do.
So what are we to do?
During this Fortnight for Freedom, our bishops are calling us to Pray, to Fast, to Do Penance, and to Act. Prayer, we must believe, is the most powerful force in the world. With our prayers and penances, we must start focusing strongly on our political leaders and policy makers. We must not get too comfortable with our Catholicism– being satisfied to confine our Catholic identity to Mass on Sundays and an occasional offering in the collection basket. No, rather, following St. Paul’s witness to the Galatians in today’s Second Reading, we must remember that we are CLOTHED with Christ. In other words, Christ covers our whole lives–everything about us. Therefore, we must do our best to understand well these and other threats to our religious liberties so that we can better educate one another, our children, and speak effectively to our representatives. Understanding the issues at hand, we must make the effort to call, write, and pray for our political leaders. We must not forget the words of Jesus himself to us in the Gospel—words which have emboldened Christians of every age to stand up in the face of religious oppression, injustice, intolerance, and discrimination- -”If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Until July 4, let us take on a Lenten spirit and do a bit of penance and prayer for increased protection for our Religious Liberties. On Fridays, the bishops have suggested, that we fast and abstain from meat like on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. They have also encouraged making Holy Hours, praying the rosary each day, and other special prayers asking God’s protection of our most basic human right. Maybe you could come to Daily Mass once during the week or attend one of our Holy Hours here on Tuesday evening or just drop by the Church for a time in prayer during the week. Whatever it is, let’s all commit to at least one type of prayer and one penance and cover our nation with special graces until July 4th. In addition, let’s commit to reading at least one Catholic article explaining the current threats to Religious Liberty and contacting at least one representative expressing our concerns.
Being Catholic…or any person of faith is no longer something convenient or conventional here in the United States. Let us not be afraid to call upon the power of the Holy Spirit, take up our cross, and follow Christ…not matter how unpopular or even illegal it might be or become.