In the days of the Roman persecution, a Christian, a citizen whose very mission statement is to bring goodness into society surrounding him, had to unfairly choose between service to Rome and fidelity to Christ. The choice was to renounce Christ—to burn incense to the Emperor and worship him as if he were God–or to die. How could Christians betray Christ? There is a similar decision being forced upon Christians today.
The US Bishops’ document on Religious Freedom, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, clearly states that there is no intrinsic contradiction between being a Catholic and an American. In fact, Catholics who practice their faith contribute so much to make America a better, just, and civil society—that is why they began running schools, adoption agencies, and hospitals. But again, a choice is being thrust upon Christians, to falsely dichotomize faith and the public life of a citizen.
A mandate has been issued by The Department of Health and Human Services which forces religious institutions and commited Catholics to provide insurance coverage for contraception, abortion inducing drugs, and sterilization, without exhemption, unless they hire and serve Catholics only. Refusal results in heavy fines.
In an unprecedented way, the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty.
Our First, Most Cherished Liberty
Essentially HHS is saying that religious faith does not have a say in matters of government policy. Contraception must be provided by employers/insurance even though this may go against relgiously-formed conscience. The mandate blatantly goes against the freedom of religion, a principle upon which this country was founded. The First Amendment explictly Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Catholic institutions should be free to offer services according to their religious tenants just as a Jewish deli should be free not to sell pork. If the mandate passes, God forbid, the government will be saying that one is free to worship as one chooses, but one is not free to apply religious principles to the way one lives one’s life and does business. It’s quite a breathtaking threat to a free society. If Catholics do not comply with the mandate they will be fined into oblivion and forced to withold charitable services from the less fortunate.
Right at the outset, he bishops’ document states that “[w]e are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other. Our allegiances are distinct, but they need not be contradictory, and should instead be complementary. That is the teaching of our Catholic faith, which obliges us to work together with fellow citizens for the common good of all who live in this land. That is the vision of our founding and our Constitution, which guarantees citizens of all religious faiths the right to contribute to our common life together.”
Catholics have a mandate from Christ, to build up his kingdom: to be leavening agents for good. Our alligence to Christ enables us to be better Americans, obedient to lawful authority. However, when the government issues an unjust law, we cannot obey that law and must oppose it. That’s why the U.S. bishops have announced a “Fortnight for Freedom” from June 21-July 4 to pray for the preservation of religious liberty. June 21 is the the Vigil of the Feasts of two men, St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, who were marytred because they refused to accept the king’s redefinition of Catholicism. The 14 days will be a time to be strengthened by the examples of martyrs who had the courage to oppose political forces that threatened the practice of their faith. When the Roman Empire declared the practice of Christianity an illegal, punishable offense, the steadfast chose death over betrayal of Christ.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I want to end with a quote from the movie the Robe when the newly converted Roman Tribune (the guy who won Jesus’ robe in the dice game) who stood before the Emperor. The following highlights the fact that religious practice need not contradict public life:
Kneel to us and renew your oath of loyalty to your emperor. Renounce your allegiance to this dead Jew who dared to call himself a king.
Marcellus Gallio (kneeling):
Sire…With all my heart l renew my pledge of loyalty to my emperor and to Rome, a pledge which l have never broken.
And the other? Jesus? Renounce him, so all can hear.
l cannot renounce him, sire. Nor can you. He is my king and yours as well.