The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have fired off a bombshell letter, vowing to fight and resist any encroachment of their religious liberty by the federal or state governments. This could be a major headache for Obama this summer.
“To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other,” the letter states at the beginning before reciting a litany of complaints about the religious liberty of Catholics being under assault.
- The HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs – that requires Catholic institutions (hospitals, schools, charities) to pay for things they believe are objectively sinful.
- State immigration laws that prohibit Catholic organisations from giving any material aid (like food or shelter) to illegal immigrants.
- State attempts to “alter Church structure and governance” such as the one proposed in Connecticut in 2009 that would force a congregationalist model on the Catholic Church, destroying the ability of bishops to govern individual parishes.
- Clampdowns Catholic foster care and adoption services for not complying with federal standards of non-discrimination (usually over homosexual adopters).
- Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services in federal grants (usually over their refusal to refer victims of sex-trafficking directly to abortion providers).
The larger intellectual case the bishops are making here is summed up toward the end of the letter: that the free exercise of religion is being defined down to a bare “freedom of worship.” That is, religious people are allowed to think and pray as they want in their homes and churches, but they cannot follow the dictates of their conscience when they provide services to the public.
To help Catholics in the pews involved, the letter encourages all parishes to take time during the time period between June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day to speak out about issues of religious liberty.
The letter casts this resistance in the most serious terms, “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.”
The Church and its conservative allies were initially winning the war over federally-mandated contraception coverage, but the Obama administration’s accommodation and the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke episode turned public opinion in favour of the administration.
This letter is evidence that the Church is very serious about getting the momentum back before the contraception mandate takes effect next year, and before this fall’s election.
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