The National Catholic Review
Emerging challenges to religious freedom in the United States

The promotion and defense of religious freedom has fast become a top priority of the Catholic Church in the United States. Threats to this fundamental right are widespread, grave and growing, both at home and abroad. The Catholic bishops of the United States are duly alarmed by this trend, and we have responded by defending our principles, educating on the facts and, most of all, with prayer.

The centerpiece of this effort is the Fortnight for Freedom, two weeks of focused attention on religious liberty. The Fortnight begins and ends on holidays rich with significance in the Catholic and American traditions of religious liberty—the vigil (June 21) of the feast of the martyrdom of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, and Independence Day. The Fortnight also begins and ends with a Mass, the source and summit of the Christian life. In between, dioceses and parishes across the country are sponsoring study groups, processions, ecumenical and interfaith prayer services and a host of other creative activities to promote a greater understanding of religious liberty.

With the annual Fortnight and other activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, the bishops are planting the seeds of a movement for religious freedom. In due time, and with God’s help, this movement will bear fruit among the laity in the realm of policy and law, in the form of more protective legislation, regulations and jurisprudence.

If Catholics are fortunate, we may see some of those fruits sooner rather than later, but overall we are taking a long-range approach. We are not dealing with a single threat that admits of a discrete solution, but a complex of threats that share deeper causes. In this long-term effort, the bishops’ central task is to spread the teaching of the church on religious freedom.

Seeds of the Movement

In the “Declaration on Religious Freedom” (“Dignitatis Humanae”), the Second Vatican Council forthrightly declared that “the human person has a right to religious freedom,” which means that all people “are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”

Successive popes have reaffirmed the church’s commitment to this principle. Writing to the secretary general of the United Nations in 1978, the newly elected Pope John Paul II asserted that religious freedom “is the basis of all other freedoms and is inseparably tied to them all by reason of that very dignity which is the human person.” Pope Benedict XVI has also emphasized its primacy. Speaking to the diplomatic corps in January 2012, Benedict called religious freedom “the first of human rights, for it expresses the most fundamental reality of the person.” Then, during his visit to Lebanon later in the year, Benedict described religious freedom as a “sacred and inalienable right” and the “pinnacle of all other freedoms.”

Most recently, before a crowd of 200,000 in St. Peter’s Square on the eve of Pentecost, Pope Francis warmly embraced Paul Bhatti, brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Pakistani government official assassinated in 2011 after urging reform of anti-blasphemy laws. “We must promote religious liberty for all people,” Francis proclaimed. “Every man and woman must be free to profess his or her faith, whatever it may be.” That same day, the Holy Father raised the issue of religious freedom in his meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

Challenges Far and Near

These papal exhortations have not occurred in a vacuum, but as expressions of growing concern. A report published in September 2012 by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life analyzed the infringement of religious beliefs and practices around the world. The study found that 75 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where governments, social groups or individuals restrict people’s ability to freely practice their faith.

Americans fortunately do not face the kind of violent religious persecution seen in many countries, like Egypt, Iraq and Myanmar, to take just a few recent examples. The United States has enjoyed a long tradition of strong legal protections for religious freedom, from the religion clauses of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the federal level, to similar laws at the state level. Recently, however, this tradition has been challenged by actions that, while not as dramatic as what is happening in other countries, nonetheless entail coercion against conscience. For example, we have seen a troubling tendency to reduce religious freedom to the freedom of worship within the four walls of a church, synagogue or mosque. This view finds expression in laws that would protect only houses of worship from coercion against conscience, while leaving other religious people and groups subject to such coercion.

All people of good will must resist this trend. While religious freedom certainly includes freedom of worship, it also includes the freedom of persons to live out their faith whatever their role in society—in social service ministries and in the marketplace, in the culture and in the public square. Religious beliefs that shape our entire lives, both inside and outside the sanctuary, have been the cornerstone of so many monumental causes—from the abolition of slavery, to women’s suffrage, to the civil rights movement. While the voice of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. rang out from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, it also rang out in the streets of Birmingham and Selma and Washington, D.C. True religious freedom includes the freedom to proclaim and practice religious faith, not just in private but in public as well.

Real-World Consequences

Recent limitations on religious freedom in the United States have affected hospitals, schools, colleges, family-owned businesses and individual believers living out the Gospel. For example, a few states have passed laws to forbid actions that state legislatures regard as the “harboring” of undocumented immigrants but that the church regards as basic Christian charity and pastoral care to those immigrants. In Alabama, Catholic bishops, along with Episcopal and Methodist bishops, filed suit against such legislation. Fortunately, federal courts have blocked some of these misguided laws—albeit on other grounds—but the church must remain vigilant so that the Catholic mission to provide food, shelter and other care to anyone in need does not become a criminal offense.

Victims of human trafficking have also suffered at the hands of extreme secularism. The U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services has built a sterling reputation as a service provider based on years of expertise actively working to serve victims of modern-day slavery. In 2006 M.R.S. began administering a federal program to provide intensive case management to this most vulnerable population.

But in 2011, despite years of excellent performance, the federal government changed its contract to require M.R.S. to facilitate contraception and abortion as a condition of keeping the contract. Even though the Catholic agency’s application earned a far higher objective score from the government’s independent grant evaluators than two other applicant-organizations that were awarded grants, it was still denied because of its refusal to violate Catholic teachings. Thus not only was M.R.S. excluded from a government program because of its religious beliefs, but victims of human trafficking were also denied the services of the most qualified contractor.

Mandate Controversy

The Health and Human Services mandate is probably the best-known and most controversial threat to religious freedom in the United States today. This is the requirement, imposed by executive-branch regulation under the 2010 health care reform legislation, that almost all employers nationwide—including religious charities, hospitals and schools—fund or facilitate insurance coverage of sterilization, contraception and abortifacients, as well as education and counseling promoting these, for employees and their children.

Only houses of worship, and a very tight perimeter around them, are exempted from the mandate as “religious employers.” Initially, H.H.S. proposed to define exempt “religious employers” by a more complex regulation, and now it proposes a simpler one. But in both cases, the exemption is just as narrow—and reflects just as much the trending view, noted earlier, that the freedom of religion is nothing more than the freedom of worship.

We are fast approaching Aug. 1, 2013, the date the mandate will become effective against our indispensable ministries of service. These entities are unmistakably religious and unmistakably employ people, yet are not deemed “religious employers” by H.H.S. Therefore, they are not exempted but instead “accommodated.” Though the “accommodation” is complex and in some respects still incomplete, it suffers from at least two major problems: first, when “accommodated” employers provide their employees with general health coverage that does not include the problematic items, the employer thereby also provides employees a “free ticket” for separate coverage of those items; and second, in at least some cases, if not all, the accommodated employer subsidizes those “free tickets” through its premiums. Although a proposed regulation would require insurers to certify that they have not charged the employer “directly or indirectly” for the contraceptive coverage, the government’s sole theory for how the contraception coverage is funded when the employer has an insured plan entails at least “indirect” funding by the employer.

Employers who resist this compulsion to facilitate and/or fund goods or services that violate Catholic teaching will face potentially crippling fines. If they stop providing health insurance to employees altogether, they will face fines of up to $2,000 per employee per year; if they continue providing excellent health care plans to their employees, but exclude the objectionable coverage, they face fines of $100 per employee per day.

Enforcing Redefined ‘Marriage’

The only arguably greater challenge to religious liberty in the United States would be a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court redefining legal marriage, as a matter of federal constitutional law, to include people in same-sex relationships. If this happens, then in every area of the law where church ministries or faith-based businesses are regulated, and where marital status matters—such as in employment, housing, education, adoption and so many other areas—the state will force the church to treat as married those it cannot. And if these organizations resist, federal, state and local governments could penalize them by withdrawing their licensing and accreditation, their government contracts and benefits and their access to public facilities. Despite the fact that the church strongly affirms the equal dignity and worth of all persons, regardless of sexual inclination, Catholics’ principled refusal to treat same-sex relationships as “marriages” would be punished as if it were rank bigotry.

Thus we would see nationwide what we have already seen in states that have redefined marriage. Catholic Charities affiliates in the District of Columbia and Illinois, which refused to place children with same-sex couples, were driven out of the adoption services business almost immediately upon the redefinition of marriage or establishment of civil unions. In Massachusetts, justices of the peace must now perform same-sex “marriages”—even if they have religious or moral objections—or face a claim of personal liability for discrimination. More recently, Delaware expressly imposed a similar requirement when it redefined marriage. In other states, owners of family businesses that provide wedding-related services like photography and flowers have been sued by people in same-sex relationships, or even the state attorney general, for their refusal to participate in same-sex wedding events.

With the Fortnight now upon us, the effective date of the H.H.S. mandate is scarcely a month away. And the Supreme Court is likely to issue its decisions in the two same-sex “marriage” cases during the Fortnight. These two key moments for religious liberty in the United States—and, perhaps providentially, their proximity to the Fortnight—help to illustrate the ongoing need for it. The Fortnight alone will not—and cannot—solve these grave religious freedom problems, but it can help slow their growth and lay the foundation for their resolution in generations to come.

Most Rev. William E. Lori is archbishop of Baltimore.

Comments

Joseph McGuire | 7/10/2014 - 11:48pm

We spent the Fortnight for Religious Freedom praying for the people in those parts of the world where their religious freedom is actually under attack--not with spirited debate but with guns, bombs, arrests, executions and the like. And we did our praying somewhere where the clergy were not trivializing the real threats to religious freedom abroad and insulting out intelligence by imagining that, for example, religious freedom is under attack because contraception has become a basic fact of life for nearly all of us--Catholics included. . Or that the marriage my wife and I have enjoyed for nearly 30 years is under attack because same-sex couples can now be married in many states?

The archbishop complains that the federal government's decision to find a different contractor is an attack on the religious freedom of MRS. I see an interesting irony in his complaint in light of the Hobby Lobby decision. The Supreme Court held that, in essence, who pays the piper calls the tune. Or whoever writes your paycheck. Well, since the federal government is paying for the services--which are perfectly legal--the best contractor is probably not one who refuses to do what the government wants. MRS remains perfectly free to pursue its Christian mission, but without a pay check from the taxpayers. It sounds a bit like one of the anti-contraception Evangelical business owners I heard post Hobby Lobby who explained that since he writes the pay checks any of his employees who disagree with his "no birth control" policy are free to get another job. In other words, if I’m writing the pay checks my religious freedom means “you’re fired.”

Frank Bergen | 7/8/2013 - 11:57pm

Bill McGarvey's column begins with the quote: "Trust me, Bill, if the church didn't utter another word about sex for 5000 years, people would still know what Catholicism says about sex: NO!" I'd say if the church didn' utter another word about sex for 5000 years, it would be too soon!
Archbishop Lori appears to me to be determined to impose the positions of the 'teaching' church on matters of sexuality on America [the nation not this estimable magazine]. But is there perhaps a bit of discrepancy between his opening references to religious freedom, which he would base in the more fundamental teachings of the church and the positions he later advocates? Per "Dignitatis Humanae" it is the human person who has a right to religious freedom but Lori would seem to concur with the U.S. Supreme Court in granting that freedom to the corporations that he claims are being or soon will be coerced into acting against their consciences. Just where does the doctrine of the corporate conscience come from, much less its priority over that of the human person?
After mentioning other varieties of religious persecution which are of passing concern to him, Lori gets down to business, and that business is for the American Catholic hierarchy sex, in all its unblessed permutations. If I understand him correctly, he would reverse the federal government's policy of providing contraceptive services and, when warranted by the factual circumstances, abortion for victims of sexual trafficking. He certainly believes the government wrong in insisting that such services be included in contracts for 'intensive case management for this most vulnerable population'. How can MRS be considered 'the most qualified contractor' if it is unable or unwilling to perform the services called for in the contract?
Would that the Congress had enacted affordable care legislation that provided for the federal government to be the single payer for health care services. But it didn't and in the Affordable Care Act we have a strange hybrid with which we all have to live, even though Republicans in Congress and the Bishops in their conference will fight it to the end of their days. Living with it ought to mean accepting the quite reasonable assumption that, for American women of childbearing age contraception is a longstanding element of their care for their own and their families' wellbeing, for the success of their marriages/relationships, and isn't going to be changed by the disapproval of the bishops. And I would guess Archbishop Lori realizes, though not for public admission, that contraception is a very successful antidote to abortion. By the bye, how many reproductive science experts would agree with the archbishop's characterization of 'Plan B' medications as abortifacients? And does this publication have to allow the inclusion of articles it prints of contrary-to-fact statements?
Finally I get to the terrible persecution about to befall the church with the increasing legitimation of marriage equality. I know of no jurisdiction in which faith communities and their leaders are or will be required to bless any marriages of which they disapprove. That's probably been true of heterosexual marriages forever in this country between people the faith community considers ineligible for its blessing. No justice of the peace of whom I know must bless any marriage on behalf of a faith community. She or he acts for the state, not the church. And as an official of the state, the JP is bound by the laws of the state. Seven years ago I stated in an op ed in the Arizona Daily Star that I would not act for the State of Arizona in witnessing to marriages because I consider the marriage laws of the state unjust in forbidding marriage equality to LGBT people. And I know of no diocese in my Episcopal Church in which a clergy person must bless the civil marriages of any couple, straight or gay.
In his and his episcopal conference's attempts to force this country, in all its blessed diversity ["Every man and woman must be free to profess his or her faith, whatever it may be." Francis, S.J., Bishop of Rome] to succumb to their version of sexual morality, Archbishop Lori does us all a great disfavor and injustice. Cease and desist, I pray thee.

Vince Killoran | 7/4/2013 - 2:33pm

The archbishop looks out at our pluralistic American society and sees some things that do not comport with his understanding of his faith. That is not the same as injustice, religious discrimination, or a threat to his religious rights. He holds a baffling sense of what constitutes religious rights. He should expect that taxpayer money will not be used to discriminate in adoption services, deny women their reproductive rights, or stand in the way of a couple who wish to marry.

ROBERT STEWART | 7/4/2013 - 10:21am

Reading Archbishop William Lori’s article referenced above raises more questions than it answers regarding “religious freedom.” The following are a few—not all—of my questions.

First question: Would many of the problems regarding “religious freedom” raised by Archbishop Lori go away if the Affordable Care Act had provided a single-payer approach to health care coverage? If we had a single-payer, would Archbishop Lori and other bishops still have problems with the issue of “funding” or “facilitating”? Is this an issue for Catholic bishops in Canada and European countries that have single-payer plans?

Second question: Is the major issue being dealt with in Lori’s article really that of complicity or cooperation with what is considered evil rather than religious freedom? If yes, then what are the moral principles that Catholics should be considering with respect to complicity or cooperation with evils in addition to what he contends to be evils in his article? Are these the only so-called evils Catholics should now be concerned with as related to religious freedom?

Third question: Are we not all complicit in evil in some degree or another in our paying of taxes that are used to do things in our name that we believe to be immoral—e.g., funding of wars that do not pass the just war test, funding of weapon systems—namely nuclear weapons--that cannot distinguish between combatants and noncombatants, funding of drone strikes that may also kill innocent children, funding of state-sponsored killing in carrying out a death penalty, funding of our prisons that incarcerate more people than any other country in the world and more than Stalin had in his gulags?

Fourth question: When does one person’s religious freedom become oppression for another person? For example, should a business owner who opposes blood transfusions or immunizations or only approves of faith healing because of religious beliefs be required to provide these health benefits to his or her employees?

Fifth question: Is the guarantee of religious freedom in the Constitution really anything more than “freedom to worship within the four walls of a church, synagogue or mosque? For example, if I am hired into a company’s employee benefits department to administer health care benefits that includes contraceptive coverage for union-represented employees, is it a violation of my religious freedom to require me to administer this part of the health care plan for union-represented employees who collectively bargained for these benefits?

Sixth question: If the state or the courts understands and defines marriage differently from the Catholic Church to which I belong, is my religious freedom being violated if I am an employer and refuse to apply the definition of the state or the court in determining who may be considered a dependent for coverage under my health care plan? For example, if I am an employer who covers employees and dependents in my group health care plan but I do not believe in divorce, would my religious freedom be violated if I am required to include as a dependent under my health care plan a new spouse of a divorced employee?

THOMAS HEYMAN MR/MRS | 7/3/2013 - 1:11pm

I am in complete agreement with the comments of Robert Du Brul, Cody Serra, and Marilyn Eng. Archbishop Lori refuses to recognize that the Roman Catholic Church has been missing in action on one of the great civil rights issues confronting our country namely equal rights for gays and lesbians. They have a right to marry and one running a public business has an obligation to serve them. It is unfortunate that our religious leaders are not only theologically challenged but totally ignorant of our great history. On this the sesquicentennial celebration of the defining battle of our Civil War at Gettysburg the markers were laid down to insure the equality of rights to all citizens. Archbishop Lori should no better than to cry wolf about religious freedom in a country which offers it in abundance as guaranteed by our constitution which was fought an preserved in a bloody battle 150 years ago.

I can only hope that the editor of America having run this discriminatory piece on this sacred date in our country's history will see fit to run a piece with the other side of this issue in another edition of this magazine , which has taken a most decidedly turn to the right. The fight over the contraceptive mandate with the administration is yet another attempt by our Bishops who have been co-opted by the republican party to pick a fight with a democratic administration that has bent over backwards to avoid a fight. American women have a right to medical plans which covers health issues unique to them and one such is contraception. This is a matter of respecting their right of conscience in choosing to use contraceptives.

Glenn Diviney | 6/28/2013 - 11:25am

The Catholic Church in America has for 50 years been supporting ultra-progressive ideologies, policies, and politicians... Who is surprised we've arrived here? The only real surprise is that the Church, who has a deep and rich history of philosophical understanding of the human condition, failed to predict as inevitable these ends.

Welcome to the bed the American Bishops have made for us. We get to sleep in it.

BRUCE SNOWDEN | 6/26/2013 - 6:59am

Baltimore Archbishop Lori is on target when he says, that, “socio-political changes (in our Country) do threaten religious liberty and do entail coercion against conscience.” The Government is dictating in certain cases how we Catholics for example, are to practice our Faith threatening penalty for rendering to God what belongs to God. The Government is thereby attempting to nullify religious liberty in the snared entanglements of rendering to Caesar what belongs to God. This moral confusion, this socio-political ineptitude is primarily sad to say, the brainchild of the Obama Administration, effectively enhanced by fallen-away Catholics in Congress who retain the name “Catholic” because that’s who they think they are or simply as a politically expedient label. No “watergating” there!

It is truly a huge dilemma for the Catholic Church and red blooded Catholic faithful. And not just for Catholics but for all Believers who live by the principle, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s!” How should Believers handle this? I opt for GENTLE PURSUATION, reluctantly admitting there may be good reason at times to act otherwise. Ecclesial bombastics as a rule only add fuel to the fire, threats of excommunication are for the most part counterproductive, even redundant as certain of the Congressional moral delinquency already carries automatic excommunication for Catholics.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, for example, at the Federal level a Pelosi, or at the State level a Cuomo, may not realize that they have what is called an “erroneous conscience” motivated I believe not by malice as they are not evil people, but instead they are the products of flawed catechesis misunderstood and negligent teaching with some degree of culpability no doubt. Their flawed Catholic molality leads to an unbalanced or imprudent attempt to show “love of neighbor, non-foundationally, I mean contrary to the God-givenand reliable edifice of their Catholic Faith, particularly in the realm of what’s called “human reproductive rights.” No one ever has a “right” to do something wrong, no matter how well intended. St. Augustine who was mostly right in what he taught said, “Charity (love of neighbor) although good must never be practiced contrary to sound judgment.” What is “sound judgment?” PRUDENCE. Indeed spiritual writers tell us that the Virtue of Prudence governs the practice of all virtue. Politicians especially must exercise well balanced moral judgment, prudent virtue, unhappily often whitewashed to look like something that can wreck religious liberty as it happening!

At Mass the other day I was called upon to do the Reading. I’ve decided to attach it to this post as sinew, to what I’ve tried to say, that reading taken from Psalm 139. “O Lord you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. My journeys and my rest you scrutinize, with all my ways you are familiar. Truly you have formed my innermost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works. My soul also you knew full well; nor was my frame unknown to you when I was made in secret, when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth (also called the womb!”) Some may say this this just blabber, an infant as it were uttering first words! Could it rather be, "out of the mouths ..." of you know who, you know what proceeds? I hope so!

Robert DuBrul | 6/24/2013 - 7:13pm

It is clear that the bishop(s) still just don't get it. They really define religious freedom as the right of the bishops to impose their will on church members and employees of church-related institutions, and it is not the right of the individual to live their life in accord with their deeply held beliefs and conscience. The bishop even wants the church to have the right to impose it's standards on those being aided in a government sponsored program such as Migration and Refugee Services, for which it is but a contractor paid tax payer dollars.
When an organization is in disarray, or facing serious internal issues (such as child abuse, treatment of women and loss of membership), a good way to deal with the internal disorder is to introduce an external threat to hopefully bring the members together and displace the internal issues. It seems to me Bishop Lori et. al. are trying to use the President and the Affordable Care Act to displace other matters they still have not attended to.

ed gleason | 6/28/2013 - 10:55am

I also agree w/ Robert DeBrul.

Louis Buckley | 6/27/2013 - 1:23pm

Agreeing with Robert DuBrul

Well said. I totally agree with your comments!

E.Patrick Mosman | 6/24/2013 - 2:02pm

Sent to President Obama,
A quote;
"If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can't see ourselves in one another, and fear or resentment are allowed to harden — that too encourages division and discourages cooperation,"
That is probably one of the most Un-American statements ever to be uttered by a President of the United States.

I was taught by my parents, Sisters in grade school and Jesuit priests
and brothers in high school that one's duties were to God, Family, Country in that order.

It is Marxist non-theological doctrine to eliminate God and the
Family and leave only the State that one owed not only allegiance but
also his/her soul. Francis Cardinal George described it as, "Freedom
of worship was guaranteed in the constitution of the former Soviet
Union," Cardinal George wrote in a column in the Catholic New World.
"You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however,
could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship
— no schools, religious publications, health care institutions,
organized charity, ministry for justice and works of mercy that flow
naturally from a living faith. We fought a long Cold War to defeat
that vision of society."

You and your anti-religious democrats and bureaucrats seek to impose Marxist
non-theology on all religious faithful through administrative mandates,
rules and regulations.

Jeanne Linconnue | 6/25/2013 - 4:47pm

The comment has been widely reported out of context. He was referring to the situation in Northern Ireland and not to the United States. Perhaps having the Protestants and Catholics go to school together would help to bring the northern Irish closer together - I don't know, but it might be worth a try. Those who use the quote out of context and do not make it clear that Obama is discussing Northern Ireland mislead those who read it.

Jim Lein | 6/24/2013 - 1:42pm

It's all too easy to get bogged down in specifics, missing the forest for the trees. And each specific can then be argued and argued.

I just re-read Martin Buber's classic "I and Thou" (the 1937 translation that uses "Thou," not the later translation that uses "You"). It ties in well with St. Paul's letter on the law of love. When we regard all others as Thou rather than It, as persons not objects, we will live as Christ calls us to do; we will be following the law as Christ-followers, not as obedient slaves to the law. In fact, if we are obsessive law-followers we run the risk of losing our contact with God by turning our God into an It-God rather than the ultimate Thou. Buber also writes of organizations as having an It focus and communities as having a Thou focus. The church seems to have slid away from Thou to It.

David Pasinski | 6/23/2013 - 9:27pm

The archbishop continues to confuse this issue and one must now beleive that it is a stubborness that refuses to recognize that religious freedom also must recognize those who approve of contraception and same sex marriage and see dicrimination against these issus as attempts at curtailling their religious beleifs. The archbishop sees only from his point of view and confuses civil rights with ecclediatical ones. This continues to go nowhere in the minds of most Catholics.

Cody Serra | 6/22/2013 - 3:41pm

With all due respect to the person of the bishop, who has the right to have his opinion on religious freedom, and the power to preach, I disagree with him. Go to the Middle East and Africa and fight for religious freedom. I'll be strongly supporting it.
But talking about attack to our freedoms because the secular and civil society is asking for equality of rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation, in sickness and in health, and for same rights in social and financial benefits as members of the civil society, is out of the realm of the Catholic Church or any other, for that matter which lives and serves in a multicultural and multireligious society.
The churches are responsible for teaching their members values in accordance with the Gospel, or the God in their religious traditions. The faithful, as adults, are responsible for their own behavior in virtue of their informed consciences, and should be allowed to have dissenting opinions on the matter. God is the last Judge of our conscience.

I do pray that these two coming Sundays are not politicized in the sanctuary with the issue, as many were during the campaign against Obamacare.

Marilyn Eng | 6/29/2013 - 5:51pm

Last year, following the Fortnight for Freedom, an increase in some parishioners feeling empowered to engage in partisan politics at church increased. Emails to ministry members and comments at parish retreats/functions became more frequent. I have really been struggling with this and have questioned my continuing participation in the Catholic Church. I am a lifelong Catholic. Honestly, I do not believe that God is a Democrat or Republican. I was taught in Catholic School that God made us all in his image and likeness. Some Catholic leaders and lay people have become very judgmental and dismissive of others especially with respect to the controversial areas of same sex marriage, birth control, and abortion. Lines are being drawn that sadly do not build a strong community. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He demonstrated this on the cross by forgiving the murderer hanging next to him and offering him a place in heaven. My 8th grade nun wisely informed me that only God has the final judgment of human beings, therefore, we should not judge others. I spent almost 35 years in the "so-called" secular world counseling and teaching students with disabilities and other at-risk students. I encountered God daily in the beauty of the human lives and struggles of my students. No, they were not perfect and had different backgrounds than mine, but I have no doubt that God loved them. As Pope Francis has preached, my Catholic education taught me to serve the poor and less fortunate. Now, as a retiree, I work in a food pantry that is supported by a variety of church organizations including Catholic Charities. I try to live my faith through my actions. The Catholic leadership and laity need to show respect for all humans even when they do not agree with their choices or lifestyles. We can all learn from each other. There definitely needs to be more dialogue between the laity and the clergy with more tolerance for differing viewpoints. We are all children of God.