Sunday, January 29, 2012

Weekend January 28-29, 2012
A Challenge to Religious Liberty

Some years ago, in the first half of the 20th century, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, was confronted with a major problem in the Catholic School System.  At that time the Catholic School students shared in the free milk program for all elementary (and secondary, I believe) schools.  The cost of a carton of milk at the time was between three and four cents.  The Archbishop received a letter as did all the heads of private schools that the State of Pennsylvania was about to mandate that the privilege of receiving free milk for lunch in the schools would soon be retracted from non-public schools.

At the time the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had well over 100,000 elementary and secondary school students enrolled in its many and large schools.  As late as the middle of the 20th century there were grammar schools with more than four and five thousand students!!!  One Catholic high school at the time had more than six thousand students.   So, for the Archbishop, Cardinal Dougherty, this was a serious issue because at the time the pastors paid the school tuition with parish funds.  The mandate, if enacted as expected, would mean disaster for many schools.

The Archbishop decided he would do what any sensible Ordinary would and should do:  he attempted to seek a negotiated settlement.  No success.  Being of "Fightin' Irishman" the Archbishop announced a policy that would impact many Catholic schools and public schools as well.  In a very simple letter the Archbishop notified the state's government officials of his intentions.  His plan was simple and could easily be put into place.  If the State of Pennsylvania promulgated the mandate, ALL of the Catholic schools would be closed and the students sent to the local public schools.  Within a very short time, the State of Pennsylvania retracted the mandate!

I tell this story because is speaks of the "fightin' spirit Roman Catholics must realize is necessary at this time in its history in this country.  that we are in a situation of similarity but with greater and more personal impact.  We should know well what the First Amendment to the Constitution stipulates, what rights it protects.  In essence, The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the passing or creation of any law which establishes a religious body and directly impedes an individual’s right to practice whichever religion they see fit. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the passing or creation of any law which establishes a religious body and directly impedes an individual’s right to practice whichever religion they see fit.

Recently the United States Department of Health and Human Services with the approval of President Barack Obama issues a new federal mandate making coverage of abortifacient drugs, sterilization and all FDA approved contraceptives OBLIGATORY for virtually all employers, including faith-based institutions.  Cardinal Wuerl wrote to the priests of the Archdiocese:  In upholding the Health and Human Services regulation, the administration has ignored the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and has denied Catholics the most fundamental freedom, religious liberty.  Despite the Church's appeal for a broader religious exemption, which was echoed by many other faiths, the administration refused to modify the regulation's current exemption that is limited to religious groups that hire and serve people primarily of their own faith."  Further the Cardinal noted that the editorial boards of The Washington Post and the New York Times "have stated the the government has no business forcing religious institutions to sponsor and pay for procedures and drugs which violate their beliefs."  And these two newspapers disagrees regularly with the Church's teaching on the sanctity of life.

In essence what the HHS regulation mandate will force "our schools, hospitals and charitable organizations" ... in(to) the untenable position of choosing between violating civil law and abandoning our religious beliefs.  For a more complete description of this situation you can visit and  At these sites Catholics who wish to support our most treasured right, religious freedom, will find one avenue to making our Catholic voice heard by our Congressional representative as well as members of the US Senate.  

I can only imagine what the staunch defender of this same liberty mentioned at the outset, His Eminence, Cardinal Dougherty of Philadelphia would be doing today to stand strong against a government action that denies religious freedom.  What makes this issue so important to the Catholic Church and other religious organizations is not the debate on birth control, abortion or other moral issues but the denial of religious liberty!  We have to stand strong against individual government actions that make the effort to inhibit various aspects of religious liberty for our Church as well as other religious bodies.

A friend offered this analogy.  If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, the animal will jump out.  However, if you put a frog in tepid water, and gradually turn the heat up, natch by notch, the frog will be killed.  Religious liberty, religious freedom must be protected by the religious bodies for which the First Amendment was created by our forefathers.  Each specific denial is a turning up of the the heat, one notch at a time.

I offer these thoughts in response to Cardinal Wuerl's request to the priests of the Archdiocese of Washington:  "Please consider calling attention to this issue and all of these resources as soon as possible."  Amen!