Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, reflected on May 31, 2019 on the state of religious freedom in our country in his column in The Catholic Telegraph. He writes,
“In the United States, freedom of worship is taken for granted. However religious liberty involves much more than that. It is also the freedom to live out our faith in the public square as we serve the community in faithful citizenship. That is what the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects in its very first words: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’
Today, however, Catholic hospitals, schools, and charitable services (such as adoption and foster care) are under attack for upholding Catholic teaching about marriage and sexuality. New federal legislation introduced in the House of Representatives, deceptively called the “Equality Act,” would force such institutions to choose between operating according to our faith and shutting down. This is the latest in a series of threats to religious freedom over the past decade.
The Catholic Church in the United States will highlight these challenges later this month with its annual observance of Religious Freedom Week. The week begins with the Feasts of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher on June 22 and ends with the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29. All those saints were martyred for living their faith – the faith we share as Catholics.”
Join in the USCCB’s observance of Religious Freedom Week, 2019!
After 95 years of offering adoption and foster care services, Catholic Charities in Buffalo, NY had to end their participation, since they seek to place children with married mothers and fathers.
And the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant an injunction to allow Catholic foster care and adoption agencies to continue operating in Philadelphia, PA for the same reason.
Let us pray for the freedom to serve to be restored to our charities!
Check out this article from Archbishop Aquila in Denver about religious freedom.
USCCB Chairmen Applaud Supreme Court’s Respect for Religious Liberty in Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision
WASHINGTON—Today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case involves a Christian baker named Jack Phillips who declined in 2012 to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. State officials sought to compel Phillips to create such cakes under Colorado’s public accommodations law. The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Phillips under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., of Philadelphia, Chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), issued the following joint statement:
“Today’s decision confirms that people of faith should not suffer discrimination on account of their deeply held religious beliefs, but instead should be respected by government officials. This extends to creative professionals, such as Jack Phillips, who seek to serve the Lord in every aspect of their daily lives. In a pluralistic society like ours, true tolerance allows people with different viewpoints to be free to live out their beliefs, even if those beliefs are unpopular with the government.”
The USCCB filed an amicus curiae brief supporting Masterpiece Cakeshop, which can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/amicus-briefs/upload/16-111-tsac-USCCB.pdf.
The Governor of Oklahoma recently signed into law a bill that protects faith-based adoption and foster care agencies that continue to hold that children deserve to be placed in homes with both a mother and a father. The Bishops of Oklahoma have praised this upholding of religious freedom in the state.
Today the USCCB gave this press release about the Masterpiece Cakeshop case that was heard today at the U.S. Supreme Court:
USCCB Chairmen Comment on Supreme Court’s Oral Arguments on Religious Freedom of Creative Professionals
WASHINGTON—Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case involves a Christian baker named Jack Phillips who declined in 2012 to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. State officials seek to compel Phillips to create such cakes under Colorado’s public accommodations law. Phillips argues that the state’s action against him and his bakery violates the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Commenting on the oral arguments before the Court, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., of Philadelphia, Chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), issued the following joint statement:
“Today’s oral arguments address whether our Constitution’s guarantees of free speech and freedom of religion will be protected by the Supreme Court. Americans of every creed depend on these guarantees of freedom from unnecessary government coercion. America has the ability to serve every person while making room for valid conscientious objection. We pray that the Court will continue to preserve the ability of people to live out their faith in daily life, regardless of their occupation. Artists in particular deserve to have the freedom to express ideas—or to decline to create certain messages—in accordance with their deeply held beliefs. Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged in the Obergefell decision in 2015 that people who oppose same-sex marriage ‘reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises.’ Creative professionals should be allowed to use their artistic talents in line with these decent and honorable convictions.”
The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling by the end of June.
The USCCB filed an amicus curiae brief supporting Masterpiece Cakeshop, which can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/amicus-briefs/upload/16-111-tsac-USCCB.pdf.
In this clip, Kellie Fiedorek says something common-sense that seems to be missing in today’s discourse. The virtue of tolerance is precisely the virtue of “putting up with” someone or something that is not good (from your perspective). You don’t “tolerate” an ice cream sundae; You don’t “tolerate” your closest friend, unless at that moment they are doing that thing that drives you crazy. Tolerance is part of love, but only because we live in such an imperfect world. We will not have to “tolerate” one another in heaven.
But today, it seems we cannot even do that. The Church’s beliefs about marriage and about the best home for children is being regarded as hateful or discriminatory. (A big thank you to those states who have passed laws to protect religious adoption and foster care agencies!)
As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, “In the name of tolerance, tolerance is being abolished.” He speaks of how the Church is being prevented from being herself, “and that, instead, an abstract, negative religion is being made into a tyrannical standard that everyone must follow.”
Don’t we see this happening today in America?
 Benedict XVI. Light of the World. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), p. 53.
 Ibid, p. 52.
At the June 2017 General Assembly, the USCCB approved the continuation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty to a permanent standing committee. This demonstrates the bishops’ commitment and the Church’s investment in assuring religious freedom for all people in America.
As Ryan Anderson points out, Americans tend not to value rights that they do not exercise. It is probably not too much of a leap to guess that the “elites” in America (celebrities, media personnel, politicians, CEO’s) are not that interested in religion, and therefore in religious freedom, especially its expression in the public square.
For this reason, it’s even more important for lay people in the Church to make it clear to their representatives and others that religious freedom is important to them. This is an issue that lay people must be engaged in, since the clergy enjoys more leeway because of their “official” ministerial positions, and could more easily be dismissed as not representative of “normal people.”
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“Today’s Executive Order begins the process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate. We will engage with the Administration to ensure that adequate relief is provided to those with deeply held religious beliefs about some of the drugs, devices, and surgical procedures that HHS has sought to require people of faith to facilitate over the last several years. We welcome a decision to provide a broad religious exemption to the HHS mandate, but will have to review the details of any regulatory proposals.
In recent years, people of faith have experienced pressing restrictions on religious freedom from both the federal government and state governments that receive federal funding. For example, in areas as diverse as adoption, education, healthcare, and other social services, widely held moral and religious beliefs, especially regarding the protection of human life as well as preserving marriage and family, have been maligned in recent years as bigotry or hostility — and penalized accordingly. But disagreement on moral and religious issues is not discrimination; instead, it is the inevitable and desirable fruit of a free, civil society marked by genuine religious diversity.
We will continue to advocate for permanent relief from Congress on issues of critical importance to people of faith. Religious freedom is a fundamental right that should be upheld by all branches of government and not subject to political whims. As president of the Bishops’ Conference, I had the opportunity to meet with President Trump this morning in the Oval Office to address these and other topics.”
Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo made a statement on the governor’s veto of a bill defending the right of religious organizations to practice their faith in various ways. Read the whole statement at the Arlington Catholic Herald.
“The bill merely sought to preserve fair access to public resources – like tax exempt status, contracts, grants and licensure — for religious charities and schools that hold to their longstanding belief that marriage is between a man and a woman…
“Just as serving the most vulnerable is inherent to our Catholic faith, so is our understanding about the nature of marriage. We cannot sever one from the other. We are dismayed that with this veto the governor fails to recognize the right of these organizations to profess and practice their faith.”
Today’s clip features Gloria Purvis. Gloria converted to the Catholic faith at the age of twelve after a profound experience before the Eucharist. In this clip, Gloria notes that the current trend of celebrating diversity notably ignores Christians as valuable members of a diverse society.
It seems that all beliefs are acceptable, and even celebrated, in the workplace unless (or until) these beliefs appear to challenge the current ethos of sexual “freedom.” If diversity is a true value, it requires tolerance, which is a virtue that applies especially when you disagree with the other.
Are you tolerant of others’ opinions on things, even when you think that they are wrong on an important issue? This does not mean compromising the truth or your own beliefs; it simply means respecting the person and his or her ability to reason and to come to a different conclusion than yours. St. Therese practiced not arguing about anything unless she felt that there was a moral obligation to do so. This is hard for some of us (the author possibly most of all!) and a good practice of self-control.
America is somewhat infamous for her people’s litigious attitudes: we will, it seems, sue anyone over anything. Think about all the common-sense warnings on items that you buy: somewhere, someone pointed out that without that warning, the company could be sued.
Lawsuits are not always, or usually, the best way to solve disagreements. As Jesus taught, it is best if we can work our differences out “on the way to court” (see Mt 5:25). While a lawsuit may sometimes seem to be the only way to address a wrong that has been done, it is not the normal course of action. Today’s clip from Made for Freedom features an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, Kellie Fiedorek, who is speaking about her work in defending Christians and others who are being sued for refusing services which would compromise their beliefs. One may reasonably ask whether it is appropriate to sue someone over these incidents.
People might disagree about whether creating a flower arrangement or a wedding cake for a same-sex couple’s ceremony is cooperating in an immoral activity, but surely we can all agree that a person should never be forced by the government to do something that goes against their conscience.
At times of crisis and war, America has upheld the rights of conscientious objectors to serve in ways other than in battle. The government may choose to fight, but they do not force someone to fight if it goes against their conscience. One could make the same case here. The government has redefined marriage in the law. It has decreed that two men or two women can be united in the same way as a man and a woman. This goes against the religious beliefs of many people in our society. Why should they be coerced into going along with it?
Take some time to become more familiar with one of the people affected by a lawsuit over the redefinition of marriage or sexuality:
Peter Range shares a bit of his experience in adoption ministry in today’s clip:
Peter talks about a child being “grafted into a family with a mother and a father.” When you choose to “graft” something on to something else, you want to make sure that the thing you are grafting onto is healthy and robust. In gardening, grafting is done to strengthen the plant, to give it the best chance of surviving. In adoption, a birth mother is placing her child lovingly into the arms of those she believes and trusts will give her child the best chance at thriving.
As Peter notes, when an agency is looking to place a child into a new “forever” home, they are looking for the best environment for the child; they would not want to place a child into a home that is lacking a fundamental element that the child needs, or that features something that child should not be exposed to. (As a simple example, an adoption agency would not be doing its job well if they placed a child with severe pet allergies into a home where the parents have 3 dogs and 5 cats!) In this way, Catholic adoption agencies seek to place children in homes with married couples, whenever possible. This is so that the child will grow up with a mother and a father; a man and woman who will step in to offer the child what their natural mother and father could not.
Consider the experience of adoption and the testimony of adopted children to their interest, or lack thereof, in meeting their birth parents. How can the Church accompany these children and their parents?
Did you know that we have smaller segments available of Made for Freedom? If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you have probably seen them. Here’s Fr. Nolan speaking about religious freedom:
Fr. Nolan says, “Just because our faith is personal doesn’t mean it’s private.” What is the distinction between “personal” and “private”? Americans tend either to overemphasize or under-emphasize privacy—we will post our various whims and even our meals on social media, not seeming to care that this is public, but then we may get shy about sharing our views about controversial issues in a public forum.
Faith is deeply personal. It is a gift of grace that directs a person’s whole life. How, then, could it not be visible or clear in public?
The reason the Catholic faith, in particular, cannot be relegated to the “private” sphere, where it’s no one else’s business, is twofold. First, we have been enjoined by Christ to “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). Secondly, we know that, “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:17). We cannot sit comfortably in our church pews, recite the creed, and then go “incognito” into the world. Doing so would mean ceasing to be who we are called to be.
Today, challenge yourself to share your faith with another person, in “public”. People need to know that their neighbors and co-workers value their faith, even if those people do not share it. How else will they know that it’s something valuable that should be protected?
This doesn’t have to be complicated. Is it a beautiful day outside? “It’s so pretty out, God is good!” Did you have a hard morning at work? “I need some serious grace to get through this afternoon.”
Archbishop Chaput, Chairman-Elect for the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB, gave the Tocqueville Lecture at the University of Notre Dame on September 15th, 2016. The full text is available here. The middle section, reprinted here, examines the importance of a true understanding of human sexuality:
So, what does any of this have to do with sex, family and the liberty of the Church? I’ll answer the question this way.
I’ve been a priest for 46 years. During that time I’ve heard something more than 12,000 personal confessions and done hundreds of spiritual direction sessions. That’s a lot of listening. When you spend several thousand hours of your life, as most priests do, hearing the failures and hurts in people’s lives – men who beat their wives; women who cheat on their husbands; the addicts to porn or alcohol or drugs; the thieves, the hopeless, the self-satisfied and the self-hating – you get a pretty good picture of the world as it really is, and its effect on the human soul. The confessional is more real than any reality show because nobody’s watching. It’s just you, God and the penitents, and the suffering they bring with them.
As a priest, what’s most striking to me about the last five decades is the huge spike in people – both men and women — confessing promiscuity, infidelity, sexual violence and sexual confusion as an ordinary part of life, and the massive role of pornography in wrecking marriages, families and even the vocations of clergy and religious.
In a sense, this shouldn’t surprise. Sex is powerful. Sex is attractive. Sex is a basic appetite and instinct. Our sexuality is tied intimately to who we are; how we search for love and happiness; how we defeat the pervasive loneliness in life; and, for most people, how we claim some little bit of permanence in the world and its story by having children. The reason Pope Francis so forcefully rejects “gender theory” is not just because it lacks scientific support — though it certainly has that problem. Gender theory is a kind of metaphysics that subverts the very nature of sexuality by denying the male-female complementarity encoded into our bodies. In doing that, it attacks a basic building block of human identity and meaning — and by extension, the foundation of human social organization.
But let’s get back to the confessional. Listening to people’s sexual sins in the Sacrament of Penance is hardly new news. But the scope, the novelty, the violence and the compulsiveness of the sins are. And remember that people only come to Confession when they already have some sense of right and wrong; when they already understand, at least dimly, that they need to change their lives and seek God’s mercy.
That word “mercy” is worth examining. Mercy is one of the defining and most beautiful qualities of God. Pope Francis rightly calls us to incarnate it in our own lives this year. Unfortunately, it’s also a word we can easily misuse to avoid the hard work of moral reasoning and judgment. Mercy means nothing – it’s just an exercise in sentimentality – without clarity about moral truth.
We can’t show mercy to someone who owes us nothing; someone who’s done nothing wrong. Mercy implies a pre-existing act of injustice that must be corrected. And satisfying justice requires a framework of higher truth about human meaning and behavior. It requires an understanding of truth that establishes some things as good and others as evil; some things as life-giving and others that are destructive.
Here’s why that’s important. The truth about our sexuality is that infidelity, promiscuity, sexual confusion and mass pornography create human wreckage. Multiply that wreckage by tens of millions of persons over five decades. Then compound it with media nonsense about the innocence of casual sex and the “happy” children of friendly divorces. What you get is what we have now: a dysfunctional culture of frustrated and wounded people increasingly incapable of permanent commitments, self-sacrifice and sustained intimacy, and unwilling to face the reality of their own problems.
This has political consequences. People unwilling to rule their appetites will inevitably be ruled by them — and eventually, they’ll be ruled by someone else. People too weak to sustain faithful relationships are also too weak to be free. Sooner or later they surrender themselves to a state that compensates for their narcissism and immaturity with its own forms of social control.
People too worried or self-focused to welcome new life, to bear and raise children in a loving family, and to form them in virtue and moral character, are writing themselves out of the human story. They’re extinguishing their own future. This is what makes the resistance of so many millennials to having children so troubling.
The future belongs to people who believe in something beyond themselves, and who live and sacrifice accordingly. It belongs to people who think and hope inter-generationally. If you want a portrait of what I mean, consider this: The most common name given to newborn male babies in London for the past four years in a row is Muhammad. This, in the city of Thomas More.
Weak and selfish individuals make weak and selfish marriages. Weak and selfish marriages make broken families. And broken families continue and spread the cycle of dysfunction. They do it by creating more and more wounded individuals. A vast amount of social data shows that children from broken families are much more likely to live in poverty, to be poorly educated, and to have more emotional and physical health issues than children from intact families. In other words, when healthy marriages and families decline, the social costs rise.
The family is where children discover how to be human. It’s where they learn how to respect and love other people; where they see their parents sacrificing for the common good of the household; and where they discover their place in a family story larger than themselves. Raising children is beautiful but also hard work. It’s a task for unselfish, devoted parents. And parents need the friendship and support of other likeminded parents. It takes parents to raise a child, not a legion of professional experts, as helpful as they can sometimes be.
Only a mother and father can provide the intimacy of maternal and paternal love. Many single parents do a heroic job of raising good children, and they deserve our admiration and praise. But only a mother and father can offer the unique kind of human love rooted in flesh and blood; the kind that comes from mutual submission and self-giving; the kind that comes from the complementarity of sexual difference.
No parents do this perfectly. Some fail badly. Too often the nature of modern American life helps and encourages them to fail. But in trying, parents pass along to the next generation an absolutely basic truth. It’s the truth that things like love, faith, trust, patience, understanding, tenderness, fidelity and courage really do matter, and they provide the foundation for a fully human life.
Of course some of the worst pressures on family life come from outside the home. They come in the form of unemployment, low pay, crime, poor housing, chronic illness and bad schools.
These are vitally important issues with real human consequences. And in Catholic thought, government has a role to play in easing such problems – but not if a government works from a crippled idea of who man is, what marriage is, and what a family is. And not if a government deliberately shapes its policies to interfere with and control the mediating institutions in civil society that already serve the public well. Yet this could arguably describe many of the current administration’s actions over the past seven years.
The counterweight to intrusive government is a populace of mature citizens who push back and defend the autonomy of their civil space. The problem with a consumer economy though – as Christopher Lasch saw nearly 40 years ago — is that it creates and relies on dependent, self-absorbed consumers. It needs and breeds what Lasch called a “culture of narcissism,” forgetful of the past, addicted to the present and disinterested in the future. And it’s hard to argue with the evidence. In his inaugural speech of 1961, John F. Kennedy could still tell Americans, quite confidently, to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Today I wonder how many of us might find his words not only naïve and annoying, but an inversion of priorities.
If we want strong families, we need strong men and women to create and sustain them with maturity and love. And as a family of families, the Church is no different. The Church is strong when her families and individual sons and daughters are strong; when they believe what she teaches, and then witness her message with courage and zeal.
She’s weak when her people are too tepid or comfortable, too eager to “fit in” or frankly too afraid of public disapproval, to see the world as it really is. The Church is “ours” only in the sense that we belong to her as our mother and teacher in the family of God. The Church does not belong to us. We belong to her. And the Church in turn belongs to Jesus Christ who guarantees her freedom whether Caesar likes it or not.
The Church is free even in the worst persecution. She’s free even when many of her children desert her. She’s free because God does exist, and the Church depends not on numbers or resources but on her fidelity to God’s Word. But her practical liberty — her credibility and effectiveness, here and now, in our wider society — depends on us. So we should turn to that issue in the time remaining.
Check out the newest video in the MUR series on marriage and religious freedom! Please share it and spread the word.
Echoing the themes of the Bishops’ Call to Prayer, Archbishop Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas wrote an article in the diocesan paper about the current threats to life, marriage and religious freedom– particularly the latter in light of the former!