The class of 2013 has big plans; read all about it and see lists of local grads in this section.
Still front and center
I hope that all of you are finding time to enjoy the summer and engage in recreation that truly re-creates you for the important role and work each of us is called to do. It will be autumn soon enough, though the heat we have been experiencing seems to tell us otherwise!
One issue that continues to command our attention is the ongoing challenge to our religious liberty, both as individuals and a community of believers, posed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service’s mandate that all health insurance plans provide coverage of contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs. This requirement went into effect on August 1, with a one-year exemption from enforcement for church institutions so that we can, as Cardinal Timothy Dolan remarked, “figure out how to violate our consciences.”
I was very pleased at the response of our parishes to the U.S. bishops’ call to the Fortnight for Freedom. Churches all across the diocese implemented my outline for prayer, penance, education and advocacy with commitment and creativity, culminating with Masses on July 4th offered up to our Lord for the preservation of religious freedom. The fruits of these efforts can only be positive, whatever the resolution of the current threat.
And, indeed, there are hopeful signs. A poll released August 1 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that a strong majority of Catholics who have had the opportunity to learn about the mandate agree with the grave concerns of the bishops. It is encouraging to see that our prayerful efforts are having the desired effect, and we must continue to dialogue with our fellow Catholics, and others as well, to raise awareness about what is at stake.
Another piece of good news was a federal court decision in Denver, Colorado on July 27 that blocked enforcement of the Obama administration’s mandate against a Catholic family-owned business. While the temporary injunction does not deliver a final ruling on the mandate, this was the first time a business owner scored a victory against the policy, and the judge’s order is a strong indication that he sees merit in the Newland family’s objection. Senior U.S. District Court Judge John Kane wrote that the Obama administration’s justifications were “countered, and indeed outweighed, by the public interest in the free exercise of religion.”
In discussions on the mandate, it is sometimes forgotten that under the new law, business owners are coerced to pay for coverage of abortifacients, sterilizations and birth control as well, and without the delay of enforcement given some religious institutions. Small and family-owned businesses like the Newland’s are facing fines for non-compliance of $100 per day, per employee. Let us hope we see more orders like Judge Kane’s.
I know that some of you have concerns about the political context of these arguments. I understand these concerns, but we must be mindful that it is our religious freedom, specifically enshrined in the Bill of Rights, which is being encroached. The government is changing the rules on us, thus forcing this fight, and it is unavoidably political. We simply cannot remain docile in the face of attempts to muzzle the Church and its people and push us out of the public square.
The Church has long supported efforts to improve the healthcare system for all Americans, but this attack on Catholics’ religious freedom does nothing to improve anyone’s physical or spiritual health and, indeed, damages both. We cannot allow the government to limit our historic mission of charity and service and threaten the hospitals, schools and ministries that generations of Catholic sacrificed to build up.
As the Catechism states, the Church from its earliest times has called the faithful to meet the necessary engagements of the public square:
(Christians) reside in their own nations, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners. . . . They obey the established laws and their way of life surpasses the laws. . . . So noble is the position to which God has assigned them that they are not allowed to desert it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2240).
Fortunately, in the fight to retain our nation’s first, most cherished liberty, religious freedom, the First Amendment to the Constitution is on our side. But we must do our part as full citizens so that the clear intention of the Founders is maintained.
We need look no further than the recent media controversy over comments made by the owner of the Chick-fil-A restaurants to see how a fellow Christian can be demonized simply for publicly affirming traditional teaching, in this case, on the meaning of marriage. Politicians and activists leapt to punish Mr. Cathy and his family’s business and employees for his statement. On the road we are travelling, before long this could happen to any of us, and we must continue to speak out, dialogue with others, and always, pray, and do penances. After all, what is at stake is the right to religious liberty, not just for ourselves as Catholics, but for all people.