My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This week, we celebrate the Fourth of July, the remembrance of the beginning of the independence of the United States of America. Contemporaneously, Catholics in the U.S. have been asked to observe a fortnight for religious liberty, which began on June 22, the Feast of St. Thomas More, the martyr for religious freedom during the reign of King Henry VIII.
This year’s remembrance of the Fortnight for Freedom finds ourselves in a little better condition than we were last year, with religious liberty still being threatened in our country, a nation founded on “liberty and justice for all.” Certainly, that liberty contains the right not just for worship but also for our preservation of conscience. The Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obama Care, with the mandate, which was part of the regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, state that all entities who provide health care insurance in its strictly defined definition of religious organizations must provide contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs to those it covers.
On June 30, the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court issued their decision on “Hobby Lobby,” in which a private organization of Christians committed to the rights of conscience do not have to provide this type of coverage to their employees. In a 5-to-4 vote, the Justices ruled that business owners can object on religious grounds to a provision of the President’s health care law that requires even closely held private companies to provide health insurance that covers birth control. The decision, which applies only to companies owned by a small number of individuals, means employees of those companies will have to obtain certain forms of birth control from other sources.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court judged this issue correctly, just as it did in the recent unanimous decision to allow access to abortion clinics by those who peacefully demonstrate or pray or try to dissuade those who enter a clinic from having an abortion. Perhaps there is some glimmer of hope for future decisions.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki, the Bishop of Springfield, Ill., coined a wonderful phrase that captures this problem exactly: “In the name of tolerance, we are not being tolerated.” This quote directly refers to many issues of religious freedom today.
We see another freedom issue unfolding before our eyes, and that is the migration of unaccompanied minors from Central America. It is a highly misunderstood phenomenon, where some would see it as an invasion or just a ploy by “Coyotes” (human smugglers) to bring more children to the U.S. with the hope of gaining immigrant status.
The fact is that almost 85 percent of these migrant children are placed with a parent or close relative already here in the U.S. This fact is not being publicized widely. These children are coming to be reunited with their families because of the inadequate immigration law that keeps families separated.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, issued on Jan. 19, 2014, entitled, “Migrants and Refugees: Towards a Better World,” has this to say: “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.”
He goes on to say, “The reality of migration given its new dimensions in our age of globalization, needs to be approached and managed in a new, equitable and effective manner; more than anything, this calls for international cooperation and a spirit of profound solidarity and compassion.”
It is exactly these elements that are missing in this present crisis. Our own government seems not to be able to negotiate or work with Mexico or Central American countries that are sending or allowing these children to pass through their boarders. Strong efforts must be made to stem this dangerous means of family reunification. While at the same time, changing the law to allow for family reunification is an imperative.
Unfortunately, our immigration reform seems to be held hostage to partisan politics without regard for the welfare of so many. The U.S. Senate passed legislation that could have dealt with many of the issues of immigration reform. However, it is far from a perfect piece of legislation. We are waiting for the House of Representatives to pass similar legislation. Again, here we see an inability of our two major parties to collaborate with one another in a meaningful way. There is enough blame to go around for all. However, in the meantime we see an influx of unaccompanied minors seeking a reunion with their families.
The Statue of Liberty, a symbol of the U.S., is on Liberty Island in the Hudson River, so close to us in Brooklyn and Queens. She reminds us that we as a Nation have been and continue to be a beacon of hope for all who are seeking a better life. Controlled immigration is a necessity. However, we can only control the laws that are adequate for the task.
As we put out into the deep remembering another year of freedom in our country, please join me in praying that on this Fourth of July we will preserve our freedom so cherished by ourselves and that it will be shared with those who come here. We also pray that we will come to our political senses and pass legislation that will truly deal with the humanitarian crisis of the exodus of unaccompanied minors from Latin America and also the issue of family reunification.