It’s just the tip of the iceberg. This Aug. 1, the federal government will impose on us regulations that, if followed, not only would violate the consciences of many American citizens but attempts even to change the definition of a church. It is a direct attack on our civil liberties, our Faith and our values, and it must be vigorously opposed.
Recently, we celebrated the feast days of two English martyrs: St. Thomas More (a layman) and St. John Fisher (a bishop). They went to their deaths because they refused to sign an oath issued by an act of Parliament which would force them to betray their consciences by accepting the King as the head of the church of England, thereby severing their communion with the Holy Father. They were faced with a bold attempt by the government to change the definition of what the Church is. Both were deprived of their heads in 1635, as they refused to abandon their consciences.
The Second Vatican Council taught that “the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself” (Dignitatis Humanae, 2).
The U.S. Constitution has long been held to protect not only freedom of “in-house” worship on Sunday but also public practice of our faith on Monday. It is as American as it is Catholic to assert the right to religious freedom for everyone. It is as anti-American as it is anti-faith to force anyone to follow a government mandate that restricts the public practice of one’s religion or imposes a burden that violates a believer’s conscience. Yet that is exactly what is about to happen across America in less than five weeks!
The burden is an HHS edict which wants to tell us how we are to practice our faith. It redefines for us the meaning of “church,” reducing it to what we do in our own church buildings with other Catholics. It dictates to us, in effect: if you want to practice your religion, go do it in the sacristy! This is not the way Christians are to live their faith. It’s not what most people of faith want. And it’s not the American way.
Everyone knows that from our country’s founding, Catholics have been involved in promoting the welfare of society. We have maintained hospitals and schools, cared for the aging and the orphaned, fought for justice in the workplace and the equality of human persons, welcomed immigrants and opened our hearts and resources to all through many charitable works and institutions. Never has it been our intent or practice to limit our humanitarian outreach to Catholics, let alone to those who enter a church building. Yet that is what a government mandate is now ordering us to do – or else.
Any of our religious institutions not serving Catholics only or not narrowly confined to church buildings will be forced to pay for immoral practices, including procedures that sterilize people and chemicals that induce abortion. And it’s only the first shot across the bow — an attempt to get a foot in the door. It will not stop here. Anyone who has ever had to deal with water damage knows how much destruction can be done by just a small but persistent leak. Such erosion must be stopped at once for it will only escalate.
As we approach the celebration of Independence Day on July 4, during this Fortnight for Freedom, we pray for the courage and wisdom to face up to the challenge to our human and constitutional rights dealt to us by a government which is bound to protect them.
In the words of Charles Carroll, one of our Founding Fathers and the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, we pray: “God grant that this religious liberty may be preserved in these states to the end of time, and that all who believe in the religion of Christ may practice the leading principle of charity, the basis of very other virtue” – for love of Faith and Country!