Archive for the ‘Religious Liberty’ Category

What’s Next for Marriage and for Us

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

I was asked yesterday to contribute to an online symposium at National Review Online about the implications of the Supreme Court decisions on marriage.  Here’s my contribution:

From a legal standpoint, the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA is extraordinary and far-reaching. Our entire legal history and tradition regarding marriage continues to be dismantled. Nobody can know what will come from redefining thousands of federal statutes and regulations — wherever the words “marriage” or “spouse” appear. It will take decades to know the ultimate legal consequences.

But there is a deeper meaning. We have been engaged in a great struggle for the soul of our society, and the souls of individuals. The battleground has been over the nature and significance of marriage, and why people should choose marriage as the centerpiece of their lives. We have long been contending against a hostile culture.

This task will go on, regardless of whatever the law might be. Families, schools, and churches will all continue to teach the authentic meaning of marriage — one man, one woman, lifelong, faithful, and inherently oriented to having children. But the terms of engagement have dramatically changed. The Court’s ruling will make our mission more difficult, by branding the real meaning of marriage as mere bigotry, hatred, and irrationality.

In a way, though, this may enable us to become more effective teachers. The big lie at the heart of the Supreme Court’s decision — that same-sex relationships are the same as real marriages — cannot ultimately gain sway over the hearts of people. It is false, and deep in our hearts we know it. And it will only highlight the contrast between the false values of a corrupted society and legal system, and the true virtues of authentic, loving married couples.

The law is a great teacher, and this Supreme Court decision teaches a lie. But the truth about marriage will continue to be attractive to people, who always prefer truth to lies.

Many of the other contributors took a “it’s not as bad as it could have been” approach.  I’m not convinced.  The expansive, dismissive language of the majority opinion — claiming that bigotry alone supports laws defending real marriage — will certainly be used by future litigants to attack the laws of the states that have not yet gone over the edge.  Same-sex “marriage” advocates have already begun predicting that it will only be a matter of five years before they will succeed in overturning all those state laws.

The language of the decision will also be used in the public square to shape the debate, by branding us as the equivalent of racists.  Soon, the media won’t even try to obtain and present our side of the story.  There won’t be much of a debate, if only one side is allowed to show up.

The Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act will also shape the implementation of a wide range of federal laws, which reach far into every recess of American life.  Think only of ERISA (which governs employee benefit plans and pension plans) and the Affordable Care Act (which governs health insurance plans), and you can see how significant will be the redefinition of “marriage” and “spouse” under federal law — every benefit plan, and every health insurance plan, will likely have to cover benefits for same-sex “spouses”.

The potential for conflict with religious liberty and conscience rights will be just as severe as with the HHS mandate.

Likewise, we can easily see a time when the IRS will play a role.  When it scrutinizes the policies of organizations that seek (or already have) tax exempt status, what will happen when it finds that an organization “discriminates” against same-sex couples in employment, benefits or services?  Will “discriminatory” churches be denied tax exempt status, or have it stripped from them? Remember, the old saying, “the power to tax is the power to destroy”.

While I continue to be optimistic that people will see through the lie in the Supreme Court’s decision, as an attorney I’m pessimistic.  People will still choose authentic marriage, and we will continue to teach about it, and call people to it.  But from a lawyer’s perspective, it’s very difficult to see a future that is free of continuing legal and social pressure and conflict, all designed to make us conform to the new view of marriage, and punishing us if we fail to do so.

A Long Train of Abuses

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Many people have expressed concern and disquiet over a recent article in the Times relating to ArchCare, the organization of health care affiliates of the Archdiocese, such as our nursing homes.  These institutions have for many years been paying into the benefits fund of Local 1199, the union that represents their employees.  These benefits funds pay for morally offensive items, such as contraception.

The implication of the article was that this represented some kind of hypocrisy on the part of the Archdiocese, given that we oppose any such mandate to provide coverage for contraception — such as the infamous HHS mandate.

The Archdiocese has responded to these allegations officially, in an effort to allay the disquiet and to correct the record.  Let me add my own, unofficial, personal take.

It’s important that people understand context here, so that they get the real picture.

We have a state law contraception mandate that is binding on all employers who provide prescription coverage, with a very narrow exception for a few religious employers (an extremely tiny exception similar to the one in the original HHS mandate).  Our hospitals and health care agencies would not qualify for the exception, because they serve and employ people without regard to their religious beliefs.  This mandate was challenged up to our Court of Appeals, and we lost.  So that’s a key factor — there’s an element of strict legal coercion involved here.

Second, we are in a very strong union shop state.  This contributes yet another element of legal coercion.  The health care workers union, Local 1199, is the mandatory union for health care workers.  The trade association is the industry’s recognized bargaining agent for the hospitals.  Once they negotiate a contract with Local 1199, that’s the contract for everyone in the industry — even if you weren’t a member of the association, you would still have to sign the standard industry contract.  The union won’t negotiate with you separately. It’s a “take it or leave it” proposition.

As a result, there’s no way to change or opt out of the health coverage — any effort to evade the standard contract would produce massive disruption of our health care institutions (strikes, etc.) and a ruinous and certain-loser legal action before the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices.

So we have two layers of legal coercion that affect us, when it comes to the operation of our facilities, and the provision of benefits to our employees.

There are also some essential facts that affect the analysis of this situation from a moral perspective.  There is an fundamental element of separation between the Archdiocese and the union health plan.  It is not like the HHS mandate, which would have required us to list contraception in our own plan, and to directly promote it to our employees in our human resources materials — these offensive elements would be specifically endorsed by us, explained by us, and counseled by us.   The HHS mandate would literally drag words out of our mouths — and it’s hard to imagine a more offensive violation of our liberty.

The union contract is entirely different — we have nothing to do with the benefits, which are administered completely by the union, it is entirely out of our control, there’s no endorsement, there’s no involvement beyond writing the check to pay for it.

So, morally speaking, it’s an identical situation morally to paying taxes that go to Medicaid contraception and abortion — the remote cooperation with evil is mitigated by the fact that my conduct is involuntary, and I have no involvement in the act itself nor do I facilitate it in any way.

There’s another element here.  There is an argument underlying the Times piece — and we’ve seen it elsewhere as well — that our compliance with these other coercive mandates somehow renders our protest against the HHS mandate void.  I just don’t understand this.  If we are repeatedly subject to unjust actions by the government, how does that prevent us from opposing a new imposition?  At what point of coercion do I lose my basic human right to protest?

Here’s an analogy that I think people should think about.  Go back to your history books, and re-read the Declaration of Independence.  Read the key paragraph, the one that deals with our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  The remainder of that paragraph is an argument that a free people are likely to endure a “long train of abuses and usurpations”, before they finally take action to defend themselves.

I certainly don’t compare this situation to that experienced by our Founders, nor am I saying that we’re justified in taking up arms.  But the fact that we are willing to be long-suffering does not in any way mean that the abuses lose their offensiveness, nor does it mean that we waive our rights.

All it means is that when we do resist, we will be all the more resolute.

 

The Next Steps on the Mandate

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

The deadline for the implementation of the HHS contraception/abortion mandate is now upon us. As of August 1, religious organizations will have to compromise their consciences and comply, or apply to the government for an extension or exemption, or risk the penalties of non-compliance.

This deadline will probably have little direct and immediate impact on ordinary Catholics who already have health insurance from Medicare or a private employer. But for the Church, any danger of being forced to compromise with sin will do incalculable damage.  A number of Catholic institutions and dioceses are challenging the mandate in court, but those cases won’t be decided for quite some time.

In the meantime, here are some suggestions about what people can do at this point:

Prayer — This is, of course, our ultimate weapon. We need to pray for our nation; for our elected and appointed officials, for a conversion of heart; for our judges, for wisdom in applying the law to these cases; for those who will be affected by this mandate, that they will have the wisdom and courage to resist as best they can.  For some suggestions about prayer activities, see our webpage about the Fortnight for Freedom.

Advocate — There are significant legislative initiatives that would overturn the HHS mandate and protect our freedom of religion. First and foremost are the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act and the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act. These bills stand on their own, but they are also being attached to appropriations bills that are pending in the House of Representatives. if your Congressional representative is on the Appropriations Committee, please contact and urge them to keep conscience protection in the funding bill.

Support our Bishops — During this bruising political season, our bishops have been taking a beating in the media. They need our support and help, and it would lift their spirits if they heard from faithful Catholics, in support of their efforts to defend the freedom of the Church.

There is an old saying, often mis-attributed to Edmund Burke, but which is true regardless of who said it: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”

Don’t lose hope!  Throughout history, the Lord has stood by us in our hour of need, and assured us, as He did to Gideon, “I will be with you” (Judges 6:16).  Let us pray with confidence to Our Lady, Help of Christians, for the strength and constancy we need.

A Prayer for Our Beloved Nation

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Just over four years ago, Peggy and I had the privilege of attending the beautiful Mass offered by Pope Benedict at Yankee Stadium.  Like many in the Stadium, we were caught up in the power of the event — the leader of the Church around the world had come to our home town and was celebrating the Eucharist for us.  It was the pinnacle of the Holy Father’s visit to our nation, and a wonderful moment for us as Catholics.

Throughout his visit to America, the Holy Father spoke in such positive terms about our nation’s legacy of freedom.  At the time, it would have been easy for most Americans to overlook the significance of remarks like these:

In this land of religious liberty, Catholics found freedom not only to practice their faith, but also to participate fully in civic life, bringing their deepest moral convictions to the public square and cooperating with their neighbors in shaping a vibrant, democratic society. Today’s celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.

How much things have changed, and how prophetic the Holy Father has proven to be.

Just a few years after that papal visit, we are faced with a panoply of threats to our fundamental religious liberty, which few could have foreseen — the legal re-definition of marriage; the mandates for insurance coverage of sterilization, abortion drugs, and contraceptives; forcing people to pay for insurance coverage of direct abortion; the refusal of our government to recognize the conscience rights of religious institutions.  The path forward is daunting, and we are likely to see more and more restrictions on religious participation in public life.

In these times, it is all the more important to go back to basics, to recapture those essential ideals of America about which the Holy Father spoke.  And to turn to God in prayer for our nation.

This is what is motivating the United States Bishops in their call for a prayerful “Fortnight for Freedom”, from June 21 through July 4.  They are asking us to join in “a great hymn of prayer for our country”, with special liturgical events like Holy Hours and litanies, and public witness like the ringing of church bells and processions.  It is an event of public devotion and worship — directed to God, on behalf of our beloved nation.

Of course, the Fortnight for Freedom risks being misunderstood by our modern culture, with its obsession with electoral politics.  The Fortnight is not about partisan politics, it has nothing to do with elections, and it is not concerned with who holds public office.  It is a call for all Americans — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — to recapture our sense of priorities.  The goal is to reawaken our sense of dependence on God for the well-being of our nation, and our commitment to transforming all of society in the light of the Gospel.

I believe that, in his homily at Yankee Stadium, Pope Benedict foresaw the need for the Fortnight for Freedom, and anticipated its message and its importance.  He spoke of our daily prayer for the coming of the Kingdom of God, and dedicating ourselves to its growth throughout our society.  Speaking of the significance of this prayer, he added:

It means facing the challenges of present and future with confidence in Christ’s victory and a commitment to extending his reign. It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness… It means working to enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and never losing sight of that great hope which gives meaning and value to all the other hopes which inspire our lives.

We are proud to be Americans, and we are proud to be Catholics.  We will gladly join together with our brothers and sisters across our nation during the Fortnight for Freedom.  We pray that our beloved nation, under God, will respect our fundamental human rights, particularly our right to religious liberty, and that this freedom will always be held sacred and secure.

Rallying for Religious Liberty

Friday, June 8th, 2012

(I had the privilege of addressing the June 8 Stand Up for Religious Liberty Rally, which was held on the steps of Federal Hall in lower Manhattan — the location where the Bill of Rights was passed. Other speakers included Chris Bell from Good Counsel Homes, Dr. Anne Nolte of the Gianna Center, Maria McFadden Maffucci of the Human Life Review, and Dr. Alveda King.  Dozens of similar rallies were held across the country.  Here are the remarks I offered.)

We are gathered here in a place where our human rights — including the freedom of religion — were recognized at the foundation of our nation.

We are gathered here today as people of many faiths, but we share some common truths. We believe that God created each and every human person in His image and likeness, male and female he created us. We believe that there is a purpose and meaning in our sexuality, and that there is a fixed eternal definition of marriage (one man, one woman, open to new life). We believe that fertility is a gift, and that every life is a blessing to be protected and cherished. We believe that we have the fundamental right to live according to these truths, to live according to our faith, and that no government, no law, can take these rights away.

But now, we are now faced with a government, with a law, that is trying to take these rights away. We are facing an ideology based on lies — the lie that marriage can be redefined, that fertility is a curse, that life is a burden to be discarded when unwanted, and that religious faith should be removed from public life. This government is trying to divide us, and force us to reject the truth that we hold to, to reject our faith, and to live according to their lies.

We cannot stand for this. We are united in the defense of our religious freedom. We are united in standing up for the truth. We will resist this. We are not powerless — our unity and our faith in God gives us strength. We can do all things in Him who strengthens us.

Our resistance does not come with a spirit of anger or hatred. It comes from love — love for God, love for our nation, love for those who oppose us, love for our children and neighbors, and love for the truth. We are not about politics. We are about principle. We do not ask for special treatment. We ask only for our rights. We are not looking to divide. We wish to unite, and heal. We are not seeking power. We are seeking conversion. We are not “protestors”. We are American citizens — and proud of it.

Later this month, people of faith across our nation will join in a Fortnight for Freedom – a great prayer for our nation.

We pray that our government will respect fundamental rights.

We pray that all Americans will re-dedicate themselves to the freedoms we hold most dear.

We pray that our nation, under God, will have a new birth of freedom, and that faith, and truth, and liberty, will never be threatened again.

The Resistance Begins

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

On Monday, May 21, lawsuits were filed across the nation by Catholic dioceses and institutions, challenging the contraception and abortion mandates. This is a historic step — never before have so many dioceses taken legal action to defend our rights.

The Archdiocese of New York (and our health care agency, ArchCare) and the Diocese of Rockville Centre were among the dioceses to file suit. Other cases were filed by the Archdioceses of Washington and St. Louis, the Dioceses of Dallas, Erie, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Jackson, Biloxi and Joliet, numerous Catholic Charities agencies and schools, as well as Notre Dame University, Catholic University, and Franciscan University. A press release about the Archdiocese lawsuit can be found here. A press release from Cardinal Dolan on behalf of the USCCB can be read here.

The grounds for these lawsuits include the Free Exercise, Establishment and Free Speech clauses of the First Amendment, and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The essential arguments are that the HHS mandate intrudes upon our religious freedom by forcing our institutions to cooperate with moral evil and by intruding upon our internal governance.

On a larger level, the lawsuit is about a question that goes to the heart of what it is to be an American of faith — can the government decide which religions they will approve and which they will punish?  In other words, will we have an Established Church here in America — one that must bow to the policy preferences of the current Administration?

To ask the question is to answer it.  For most of us, our ancestors came here hoping to enjoy freedom to worship God as they wished, without the orders or demands of the state.

This is a very important step in resisting the violation of our religious liberties by the government.  We should all pray for its success.

The Disgrace of Georgetown

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

There’s a very fine Jesuit priest who is a professor at Georgetown University, Fr. James Schall. In a recent column, he said this: “Tell me who you honor and I will tell you what you are.”

The reason for the question is the appalling decision by Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute to have HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as the speaker at their commencement. The president of Georgetown has stated that this platform is being given to the Secretary because of her “long and distinguished record of public service”.

Yes, you read that right.  An allegedly Catholic university, giving a platform of honor to the current Administration’s point person to advance its anti-life agenda.

Let’s review some of the highlights of Secretary Sebelius’ “long and distinguished record”, for those at Georgetown who don’t have access to the Internet:

  • She has spearheaded the recent attacks on human life and religious liberty by promulgating the infamous HHS contraceptive and abortion mandates.
  • She notoriously declared at a pro-abortion rally that “we are in a war” to defend the right to kill children in the womb.
  • She has associated with, and embraced the support of, the infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller — she even hosted an event at her governor’s mansion in honor of him and posed smiling for pictures with him.
  • As Governor of Kansas, she consistently opposed pro-life legislation, and has repeatedly vetoed bills like a ban on partial birth abortion.
  • Her record was so bad in Kansas that her own bishop, after trying privately to convert her, had to publicly admonish her not to present herself for Communion until she publicly repudiates her pro-abortion positions.
  • Georgetown loves to boast about how it is a university “in the Jesuit tradition”. At the heart of the Jesuit charism is the Spiritual Exercises of their founder, St. Ignatius Loyola. During the second week of the Exercises, those who are on the retreat receive a meditation on the Two Standards. This is a powerful expression of the very meaning of Christian discipleship.

    The meditation asks bluntly — whose standard or flag will we follow, Christ’s or Satan’s?

    Satan’s standard, of course, is the one that the world finds most attractive, because it superficially appeals to our fallen human nature. It offers us the desire for worldly possessions, power, honor, and a false view of freedom that is a disguise for immorality. In the end, though, it leads only to destruction.

    Christ’s standard, on the other hand, is the one that the world finds unattractive, because it appeals to values that are exemplified by Our Lord himself, whom the world rejected. It offers us humility, poverty, sacrifice, and authentic freedom that involves willing adherence to God’s will. And in the end it leads to glory.

    So here’s the question for the Georgetown administration — which standard have you chosen? As Fr. Schall said, “Tell me who you honor and I will tell you what you are.”

    The Power of the Powerless

    Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

    In my last post, I outlined the need for resistance against unjust laws that threaten the freedoms of religious and pro-life people.  In this post, I’m going to present a “menu of resistance” — essentially a list of things that people can do to give actual life to their conscientious objections to injustices like the contraception and abortion mandates, attempts to force the recognition of same-sex “marriages”, restrictions on free speech, and the like.

    Before presenting these suggestions, I would like to stress several important points.

    First, this is not an official statement or position of the Archdiocese of New York — it is my opinion, and mine alone. Take these ideas for what they’re worth, but they are not attributable to the Archdiocese in any way.

    Second, I don’t want anyone to be under any illusion here — some of these suggestions may lead people into legal difficulties with the authorities.  Governments generally are very intolerant of dissent and civil disobedience.  So people should assess their level of risk, and prepare themselves to accept the consequences of their actions.

    Third, and most important, the watchword of resistance to injustice is always that we speak the truth with love.  That is non-negotiable.  Our aim is the conversion of hearts, not the exertion of power.

    With that having been said, here are some suggestions about how people can

  • Learn about your rights.  Most states have laws that grant protection to religious belief.  For example, here in New York, our Human Rights Law contains fairly broad protection against discrimination on the basis of religious belief, and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for believers.  Courts in New York have already held that opposition to abortion is protected under these laws.
  • Take advantage of the law.  Many unjust laws provide for exemptions and appeals.  For instance, private employers can file for an exemptions from the HHS abortion/contraception mandate.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if HHS received a letter from every parish, every school, every hospital, every nursing home, every Catholic employer in the United States — thousands of requests for exemptions that they would have to process?  Do you think that might let them understand how significant an intrusion their mandate is?
  • Use the government’s own legal process.  Appeal any denial of a request for an exemption.  File complaints with civil rights offices of government agencies when they try to force you to cooperate with unjust laws.  Explain to them that complying with the law would violate your Constitutional rights.  For example, you can file a complaint with the Civil Rights Office of HHS here.  All states (like New York) and most localities also have human rights commissions — file complaints with them as well.
  • Be persistent.  Protest letters to government agencies are likely to be ignored at first, or summarily denied without any reason.  If that happens, appeal to higher authorities at the agency, and go up the ladder, all the way to the person in charge.
  • Ask your elected officials for help.  Send copies of your complaints and appeals to your representatives in Congress or the State Legislature.  Ask them to intervene with the agency on your behalf.  Insist that they send you a response.  Go to their district office and ask for help in person.
  • Always tell the truth. Never tell a lie to a government official — if it’s a federal official, that’s a crime.  So, for example, if you are called upon to fill out a form, and it asks for an answer that you cannot honestly give, leave it blank and write a cover letter explaining your objection.
  • Don’t pay for injustice.  Refuse to pay fees for insurance coverage for abortion and contraception.  Write to your health insurance company and ask for a rebate for any funds spent on abortion.  When they ignore you, write to the board of directors and the president of the company.  If they insist that you pay, send them the fee in pennies, write a polite protest letter.
  • Write to your elected officials.  Make clear to them that you want them to pass just laws, and repeal unjust laws.  Do it over, and over, and over.  Join email networks like the New York State Catholic Conference Advocacy Network and the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment and send easy emails to your representatives.
  • Write to candidates.  Explain to them that you will never vote for them unless they oppose unjust laws.  If you can’t think of anything else to say, tell them that you agree with Cardinal Egan:  “Anyone who dares to defend that [an unborn child] may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name”.
  • Don’t vote for them.  Speaking for myself, I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you don’t respect human life, don’t see the need to preserve marriage as one man and one woman, and won’t defend religious liberty, I won’t vote for you.  I refuse to choose “the lesser of two evils” — because then, all I’ll ever get is evil.
  • Participate in public witness.  It is vitally important that we be seen by the general public as sane, reasonable, committed people.  Participate in prayerful and peaceful vigils like those run by the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants.  Join positive, well-informed rallies like the ones sponsored by “Stand Up for Religious Freedom”.  Always obey the law.  Remember — numbers don’t matter — witness does.
  • Support lawsuits against unjust laws.  There are many great organizations that are fighting in court to defend religious liberty, like the Alliance Defense Fund and the Becket Fund.  If you have some extra, send them some cash.  Join their lawsuits — wouldn’t it be great if a million Catholics joined a gigantic class action suit against the contraceptive and abortion mandates?
  • Refuse to speak the lie. Always tell the truth — abortion is not health care, contraception is bad for women, men and society, marriage is only a union of one man and one woman, and religious belief is not hatred or bigotry.  Remember, your silence may be taken as agreement or surrender, so make sure that you speak out.
  • Don’t cooperate in the lie.  Don’t do anything that will recognize the lie.  For example, don’t give your employees information about contraception or abortion coverage, erase it from your company’s plan books, refuse to recognize any same-sex marriages.  Remember that human rights laws protect religious liberty.  If you think your rights are in danger, use the magic words — “I’m going to consult with a lawyer”.  Then call a group that defends liberty, like the Alliance Defense Fund.
  • Stick together. One of the things that people find demoralizing is the sense that they’re all alone, and that nobody agrees with them.  But we are not alone — we’re a gigantic movement.  So, write letters to the editor of your newspaper, post comments on friendly blogs (and ignore the flames that come back in response), put the truth up on your Facebook page (even if people will “unfriend” you), pass around supportive emails, join a pro-life organization like the Knights of Columbus or your local pro-life committee.
  • Pray, pray, pray.  For everyone involved — those being oppressed as well as their oppressors.  This is not going to be easy.  But remember what St. Paul said:  “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)
  • Resistance reminds people of a sense of their power, even when they appear to the whole world to be powerless.  The truth, expressed with love, is an enormously influential force.  Worlds and lives can change, when people have the courage to testify to the truth.  We can lift each other up by our steadfastness.

    Even if we have no idea how our actions will play out, each individual moral act will have a ripple effect, the ends of which we cannot foresee.  Even if we never see the end result, we can always be satisfied that we have been faithful to our beliefs.

    And we can never underestimate the power of the powerless.  Especially when God is with us.

     

    Revision and Resistance

    Monday, May 14th, 2012

    Most people are not aware of it, but the founding documents of our nation have been fundamentally re-written in recent years.  Here is how the key passage of the Declaration of Independence has now been revised to read:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that some people are created more equal than others, that some of them are endowed by their government with certain alienable rights that can be given or taken away at any time, at the whim of the government.

    And here is part of the First Amendment to the Constitution:

    Congress shall make many laws respecting an establishment of religion, and prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    We now live in a nation that is systematically revising its intellectual and legal foundation.  We are in grave danger of abandoning its commitment to fundamental human rights, rooted in human nature and natural law.  That foundation is being replaced by a system of positivism and secularism.  I have written on this blog many times about this trend.  For a fuller explanation of what it means, check out Cardinal Dolan’s important address to Fordham Law School.

    In concrete terms, we can see these threats to religious liberty and fundamental rights in many places: the HHS Mandate, the abortion mandate in the health care law, the radical re-definition of marriage, and efforts to suppress the speech of pro-lifers.

    In the face of these threats to our liberties, ordinary citizens frequently feel powerless.  After all, the government is very large and very powerful, and we think we are isolated and alone.  We fear for our livelihoods and our families if we run afoul of the law.

    So what can we do?

    We must resist.

    The starting place for resistance is to understand what it means, and what it does not.  I strongly urge everyone to read two key works that explain the reasons and tactics for resisting unjust laws enacted by civil governments — Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless.

    These essays stress a number of essential points:

  • Resistance is a duty of all citizens when faced by injustice.  It is not an “extra-credit” activity.
  • It must be always be grounded in the truth.  It makes no compromise with lies, and always seeks to expose them.
  • It must always be pursued with love and respect.  It is not an excuse for violence and lawlessness.
  • The goal is conversion of heart on the part of those who support injustice, not overbearing their will with power.  It’s message always is “come, join us”, and never “we will force you to agree”.
  • The most important tactic is our willingness to testify to the truth by our words and our actions, and our refusal to cooperate with injustice and lies.
  • Underlying this duty of resistance is an important understanding of the freedom of conscience.  My conscience is not just reflected in my external decisions, but it involves the very core of who I am as a human person.  It is the inner sanctuary where I encounter God’s law.   It is in my conscience that I hear the voice of God, speaking the truth to me.  It is there that I must be true to myself, and to the will of God.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the document of the Second Vatican Council, On the Dignity of the Human Person (especially paragraph 3), explain this beautifully.  These documents should also be studied with care.

    The government may attempt to coerce my external cooperation with injustice by imposing penalties, fines, and so on.  But no government, and no law, can force me to accept a lie as the truth.

    That is the heart of resistance — the ultimate freedom of the human heart.

     

    Mandate Fact #3 — Dragging Words Out of Our Mouths

    Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

    One of the most common claims that we’ve heard is that the HHS mandate actually won’t be a big deal in practice, and that the Church is either “crying wolf” or being hyper-sensitive.  The argument is that the Administration’s “accommodation” means that the responsibility for paying for the offensive services has been shifted from the employer to the insurer, so religious employers and individuals have nothing to worry about.

    This is not at all accurate, and fails to account for how the mandate will work in practice.

    The reality is that the mandate will drag words out of our mouths that we would never freely choose to utter, and force us to do things that we would never freely do.  It will coerce direct and repeated conduct and speech by Church employees — acting on the authority of and in the name of the diocese and the bishop.

    Consider how an employer selects and administers a health insurance program for their employees.  Contracts for health insurance coverage must be negotiated and signed by a diocesan official, usually a high ranking official like the director of Human Resources, the Chief Financial Officer, or the Chancellor.  These contracts are then packaged into a plan booklet, which is issued by the Human Resources office in the name of the diocese, and usually accompanied by a letter to employees from a high ranking official — or even the bishop himself.  Details about the plan are usually incorporated into the official personnel manual of the diocese, which is issued by the Human Resources department and often promulgated by the bishop himself or a high ranking official designated by him.

    Officials in the Human Resources department, and every individual department and institution, will process applications for insurance coverage, and will routinely discuss the details of the plan with current and prospective employees.  In the case of any self-insured diocese, there is a further layer of involvement between the diocese and the services, since diocesan officials or their agents will have to issue checks drawn on diocesan funds, to pay for the services.

    At each of these instances, a diocesan official would be taking formal and specific knowledge of the details of the health insurance plan.  They will also be required to do things — taking a action or making a statement — that specifically endorse the insurance policy as a formal act of the diocese, and thus of the bishop himself.

    This strikes directly at the heart of individual and institutional freedom of conscience.  Throughout American history, we have shown by exempting people from laws that would violate their religious beliefs — for example, think of Jehovah Witnesses and the Pledge of Allegiance, or Quakers with the military draft.  Our laws contain hundreds of such exemptions.  They represent, in many ways, the best part of the American character.

    This regulation, on the other hand, represents the worst part of modern America — the exercise of raw political power to deny the rights of an entire class of people, and to benefit a favored class of political supporters, all in the service of an anti-life ideology.

    We must resist.