The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a strong statement today on Religious Liberty: Our First, Most Cherished Liberty. In the statement, they call all Catholics–fellow bishops, clergy, and laity–to action.
You should read the entire statement, and then read it again carefully. I’ll highlight a few key points in this post, but please read the entire statement.
The statement gives several concrete examples of religious liberty under attack by this administration in the United States–note that these examples affect not only Catholics. The examples include the HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs, state immigration laws that make criminals of priests giving the sacraments to illegal immigrants, laws that attempt to alter Church governance, and prohibit Christian student groups on campuses. State laws prohibit Catholic adoption and foster care agencies from operating within their moral teachings and drive them out of business and discriminate against small church congregations, and federal laws discriminate against Catholic humanitarian services.
The Bishops’ statement makes a clear distinction between freedom of religion, and freedom of worship; the administration is attempting to transform the former into the latter.
Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith? Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas.
The statement makes the connection between religious freedom and a healthy, thriving, free civil society.
What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society—or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it. Religious believers are part of American civil society, which includes neighbors helping each other, community associations, fraternal service clubs, sports leagues, and youth groups. All these Americans make their contribution to our common life, and they do not need the permission of the government to do so. Restrictions on religious liberty are an attack on civil society and the American genius for voluntary associations.
An interesting analysis of the difference between an unjust law, which must be disobeyed, and conscientious objection. The HHS mandate is an unjust law.
It is essential to understand the distinction between conscientious objection and an unjust law. Conscientious objection permits some relief to those who object to a just law for reasons of conscience—conscription being the most well-known example. An unjust law is “no law at all.” It cannot be obeyed, and therefore one does not seek relief from it, but rather its repeal.
What are we to do? The bishops have specific words for those in public office, and those who work in Catholic institutions. What about the clergy and laity “in the trenches?”
To the laity:
In insisting that our liberties as Americans be respected, we know as bishops that what our Holy Father said is true. This work belongs to “an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture.”
To our priests, especially those who have responsibility for parishes, university chaplaincies, and high schools, we ask for a catechesis on religious liberty suited to the souls in your care. As bishops we can provide guidance to assist you, but the courage and zeal for this task cannot be obtained from another—it must be rooted in your own concern for your flock and nourished by the graces you received at your ordination.
To the media, old and new and social:
Catechesis on religious liberty is not the work of priests alone. The Catholic Church in America is blessed with an immense number of writers, producers, artists, publishers, filmmakers, and bloggers employing all the means of communications—both old and new media—to expound and teach the faith. They too have a critical role in this great struggle for religious liberty. We call upon them to use their skills and talents in defense of our first freedom.
Specifically, the bishops ask for a “fortnight for freedom”
In particular, we recommend to our brother bishops that we focus “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” in a special way this coming summer. As pastors of the flock, our privileged task is to lead the Christian faithful in prayer.
This year, we propose a special “fortnight for freedom,” in which bishops in their own dioceses might arrange special events to highlight the importance of defending our first freedom. Our Catholic institutions also could be encouraged to do the same, especially in cooperation with other Christians, Jews, people of other faiths, and indeed, all who wish to defend our most cherished freedom.
When and how?
We suggest that the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, be dedicated to this “fortnight for freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.
In addition to this summer’s observance, we also urge that the Solemnity of Christ the King—a feast born out of resistance to totalitarian incursions against religious liberty—be a day specifically employed by bishops and priests to preach about religious liberty, both here and abroad.
To all our fellow Catholics, we urge an intensification of your prayers and fasting for a new birth of freedom in our beloved country. We invite you to join us in an urgent prayer for religious liberty.