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The right to religious freedom
It is a general principle of ethics that it is not only wrong to commit an evil act, but also to enable others to commit it. In the case of theft, for example, one can be charged with criminal activity not only for taking the object, but for assisting the thief. In the current challenge to our religious freedom forced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Catholics are fighting for the religious liberty to act according to our consciences — to be free not to commit what is an immoral act or to support others in doing so.
The First Amendment to the Constitution provides all citizens with the right to religious freedom. This freedom extends not only to worship in one’s church or synagogue, but also to the free exercise of that religion. Indeed, our country has throughout the years provided a refuge for those of many different faiths to flee religious persecution, to practice their beliefs in a democratic society.
Religious freedom does not allow that we should or could force our beliefs on others, but rather that we will not be forced by others to violate our beliefs. Presently, the Obama Administration is mandating as of August 1 that all health insurance plans provide contraception coverage, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilizations, to their employees. The fight for religious liberty is not about whether or not American women have access to or utilize contraception; it is about whether or not as Catholics we can be forced to pay for these items.
Paying for others to use contraceptives and undergo sterilizations is considered a sin by the Catholic Church. We would be using our funds to support procedures that are harmful to women and to their unborn children. This is something that a Catholic in good conscience cannot do.
The patron of our diocese, Saint Thomas More, stands as a model for all of us as we strive to uphold religious liberty. More, a renowned statesman throughout Christendom, man of letters and former Chancellor to the King of England, was asked to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn as Queen of England, recognizing her as King Henry VIII’s wife despite his first marriage not being annulled in the Church. He also refused to take an oath which declared Henry VIII the supreme authority of the Catholic Church in England. In good conscience, Saint Thomas could not take these actions because he knew clearly the tenets of the Church upholding the sanctity of marriage and the Petrine Office. Despite his great contributions to England and the intellectual life of Europe throughout his career, the man we now call Saint Thomas More was found guilty of treason because he would not violate his conscience. He was beheaded.
As American citizens, we fortunately do not presently face the terrible choice that confronted our patron, and we have had the privilege of living in a country that values the right to free exercise of religion. Yet, while in the past, the story of Saint Thomas More may have seemed distant, the choice between conscience and full citizenship has now been forced upon us.
It may be easier to accept what the media and others tell us about the current debate over the HHS mandate. They tell us that “everyone” uses contraception, that it isn’t a big deal. They tell us that we are being stubborn, reactionary and political.
Do not be deceived. The First Amendment is being threatened, as well as our right to act according to our consciences. We cannot comply with this policy. This fight does take place, unavoidably, in the political arena because the state has instigated it. If this mandate stands, what will keep the government from forcing us to violate our consciences on other issues or forcing other religions to do the same?
I ask all of you to educate yourselves on this important challenge to the life of our Holy Church and our rights as citizens in this free society. Please visit our diocesan website at www.arlingtondiocese.org/religiousliberty to find resources, information and news about how you can help. And as we head into the Fortnight for Freedom established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) from June 21 to July 4, please try to join one of the Holy Hours that will take place in every parish in the diocese from 7:30-8:30 p.m. on June 21 and June 28.
Pray, fast, and advocate for religious liberty. Indeed, prayer and penance must be the rock — the foundation — of all that we do. Help ensure that our country continues to be one that welcomes peoples of all religions and recognizes the exercise of faith to be a fundamental right for all.