by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Over the last several years, it has become increasingly clear that our nation’s political elites are waging a war against religious freedom. The most recent attack is from the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate, which is forcing all but narrowly defined religious organizations to provide contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacient drugs to employees, even if self-insured, as is the Diocese of Brooklyn. This issue is not about contraception. Rather, it is about the violation of conscience and fundamental religious freedom, as well as the government’s intrusion into the moral tenets of a church organization.
Tragically, those hostile towards religion have succeeded in framing a narrative where people of faith are the perpetrators of all the evil and wars in human history. Yet, when people of faith are banished from having a voice in the public square or barred from living according to the dictates of their conscience, grotesque evil takes hold upon the broader society. We witnessed the ill effects of such policies in the last century, which was perhaps the bloodiest in human history due in no small part to the banishment of God and religion from the public discourse.
During our recent Ad Limina visits, Pope Benedict XVI reflected the concerns of the American Bishops, saying, “Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion” and a “tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.”
My guess is that President George Washington understood the possible trajectory of Enlightenment thinking, which he himself was heavily influenced by, when he observed, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness… Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? … Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
The fact is that the Church and people of faith have historically been at the forefront of advocacy for the rights and dignity of humankind. It was people of faith who spearheaded the abolitionist movement in the 19th century and who were in the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 20th century.
Yet, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. also lamented the lack of action on the part of people of faith. He wrote from a Birmingham jail cell, “So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.” How heavy-hearted he must have been by the divisions that he found among people of faith.
Dr. King’s indictment of people of faith might stand even today. In that same letter which he wrote from prison, the great civil rights leader remarked, “There was a time when the church was very powerful – in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society… By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.”
A couple of weeks ago, “For Greater Glory” opened in theaters. It is a story about the war against religion that was waged by the Mexican government. If you have the time, I would recommend that you see this excellent film. It accurately captures how one’s “rights” are not initially seized at gunpoint. Rather, one slowly surrenders freedoms until the world in which we find ourselves living seems to be a terrible nightmare.
As an American and a Catholic, I for one intend to fight for the rights that were bestowed upon me, not by any government or nation but by Almighty God.
On Friday, June 22, and again on Wednesday, July 4, at noon, I am asking our pastors to ring the bells in our churches for 10 minutes, the reasons for which will be publicized. These bells shall be for you and for me a song of freedom.
As we put out into the deep, my hope is that these bells shall echo the cry of Blessed Padre Miguel Pro, “Viva Christo Rey!” which means “Long Live Christ the King!