Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Imperfect Legislation and Real Victories

Friday, November 13th, 2009

There has been a great deal of furor over the Stupak Amendment, which excluded funding for elective abortion from the House health care bill that was passed last week. Most of the ruckus has come from the pro-abortion side.

But some of the criticism has come from pro-lifers, who are upset that the Amendment would still permit federal funding for some abortions — when they are performed in the cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother. Some of these critics have gone so far as to criticize the Bishops for supporting the Amendment, alleging that they have strayed from the position of holding all human lives sacred.

I respect the opinions of these critics. I share their goal of the complete protection of all human life from the moment of conception. I wish it were possible to enact such laws today. But in my opinion it is not possible, and I strongly disagree with the idea that supporting the Stupak Amendment is a sell-out of pro-life values.

There is no doubt that there are many flaws that remain in the House bill, which need to be addressed before Catholics can support it in good conscience. There is also no doubt that the Stupak Amendment falls short of the kind of complete defense of human life that we desire to be enshrined in our law. If it were a stand-alone piece of legislation, we would certainly oppose it. But it was not. It was an effort to mitigate the horrible damage that would have been done by the House health care bill to human life and to our society.

Without the Amendment, every single abortion in the United States — over one million of them — would have been subsidized or paid for in full by federal money. The bill would have enshrined elective abortion as a basic component of health care in the United States. The Stupak Amendment lessens that danger. It doesn’t eliminate it, but it limits it.

To me, any setback to evil, however small it may seem, is a victory. And I’m not alone in this view. One way to tell that the Stupak Amendment is a major step forward for pro-life is to listen to the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the pro-abortion forces, who recognize this as a major defeat for their cause.

The question of whether to support imperfect legislation is is an old argument, and not just in our cause. Back in the days of the abolition movement, William Lloyd Garrison was a tireless advocate for complete and immediate emancipation of all slaves, and he was bitterly critical of those who favored incremental steps towards that goal. During the civil rights struggle, there were many who were denounced as sell-outs or as “Uncle Toms” for their support of limited legislative solutions. These kinds of arguments may make their proponents feel better about themselves, but they distract the movement from the shared goals, damage personal relations, and being discord into what should be God’s good work.

What I particularly find sad is the intemperate tone of some of the attacks on the good faith of the Bishops and others who worked for the passage of the Stupak Amendment. Even in our public advocacy, we have to act as Christians, and treat both our allies and our adversaries accordingly. The angry, nasty tone of talk radio and internet comboxes has no place in discussions among Christians, even those who disagree strongly about means or ends.

This is a time for unity and realism. We must recognize that some kind of heath care reform bill will be passed by both the House and the Senate, and signed into law by the President. We must act together to ensure that whatever bill emerges from the process respects human life to the maximum extent possible under the circumstances. And we have to keep working, for as long as it takes, to transform the hearts and minds of our nation, so that all human life is eventually protected under our law, and abortion becomes inconceivable.

The Meaning of the Health Care Votes — Part Two

Monday, November 9th, 2009

For months, the Bishops have been insisting on several key points in their advocacy on the health care reform bills. Two points raised by the Bishops, in their letter to Congress in October, are worth recalling:

1. Exclude mandated coverage for abortion, and incorporate longstanding policies against abortion funding and in favor of conscience rights. No one should be required to pay for or participate in abortion. It isessential that the legislation clearly apply to this new program longstanding and widely supported federal restrictions on abortion funding and mandates, and protections for rights of conscience. No current bill meets this test.
2. Adopt measures that protect and improve people’s health care. Reform should make quality health care affordable and accessible to everyone, particularly those who are vulnerable and those who live at or near the poverty level.

Now that the House has passed the first of the health care reform bills, it’s worth reflecting on how what the bill means, in comparison to these criteria.

Abortion. In my last post, I discussed the effect of the Stupak Amendment to the House bill, and how significant it was to establish that abortion is not heath care, and should not be paid for with federal funds. The challenge ahead is to ensure that this provision is put into the Senate bill, and then survives in whatever bill (if any) finally passes Congress. And, if a bill is ultimately signed into law, we will have to be eternally vigilant to ensure that abortion doesn’t sneak in the back door through some regulations.

Conscience protection. The House bill has some favorable conscience protection provisions, and actually improves upon current federal law by writing some clear protections into statute, rather than leaving them to the annual appropriations bills, which have to be renewed each year. However, there are still some deficiencies, since the protections do not extend to pharmacists, and there is nothing in the bill about conscience protection for end-of-life care. We will have to do some more advocacy in the Senate to try to correct these problems.

Improving health care for all. There is no doubt that universal insurance coverage is a good idea, and that the House bill moves forward towards that end. However, there are still significant reasons to be concerned. For example, the House bill contains a provision that could be used to develop standards for care that would effectively deny medical care to certain people based on a judgment about their quality of life. In addition, the bill would also penalize doctors who prescribe care that is too expensive. When added to the general pressure that would exist to cut costs, these provisions could result in passive euthanasia for the elderly and disabled. We’ve already seen this in the United Kingdom, and we need to be very careful about it coming here.

There are other reasons to be concerned about the effect of the federalization of health care insurance on everyone’s health insurance. The Catholic principle of subsidiarity specifies that problems should be handled by the people closest to the problem, such as individuals and families. Government certainly has a role in helping to solve social problems, but it is not the first or the preferred way of addressing a social problem.

Yet this bill turns that principle on its head, and overrides the decisions of individuals and families about their health insurance, and restricts their freedom to decide about their own health care. This is particularly a problem, since there are other reforms that could be pursued that could address the need for greater access to insurance while respecting the freedom of individuals and families (e.g., allowing people to shop across state lines for insurance, letting them carry it from job to job, and fixing the tax system so individuals can buy insurance apart from their employer).

In addition, the very, very high price tag on the House bill raises significant concerns. Over and over, we have seen in New York an effort to restrain the high cost of Medicaid, the health insurance for low income people. The result of this is cutting payments to doctors and hospitals, and limitations on care. If the House bill were to become law, we would see even greater pressure across the country to reduce or restrain the cost of medical care. The inevitable result of these pressures is rationing — limiting health care to those who are judged worthy, and the denial of care to others.

There is a long way to go in the health care debate. But we have reached an important milestone — the end of the beginning, even if not the beginning of the end (to paraphrase Churchill). We must continue to press our legislators to ensure that whatever bill is finally agreed upon satisfies our criteria for justice and respect for human life.

The Meaning of the Health Care Votes — Part One

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Late Saturday night, the House of Representatives held two momentous votes on health care reform. Both have great significance for the cause of human life.

The first vote came on an amendment that was offered by Bart Stupak, a Democratic Congressman from Michgan. Mr. Stupak’s amendment was designed to remove federal funding for elective abortion from the health care reform bill. In the days leading up to the vote, the House leadership and pro-abortion forces worked feverishly behind the scenes to come up with some kind of “compromise” that would leave abortion funding in the bill, but would give pro-lifers some kind of face-saving deal they could vote for. In the end, Mr. Stupak and other pro-life Democrats held firm to their principles, and insisted on an up-or-down vote on the amendment. Fearing that the overall bill would be defeated because of this, the House leadership agreed.

I’m a bit of a political junkie (well, I’m a lot of a political junkie), but I think that anyone who understood the stakes would have to have been mesmerized by what unfolded on the floor of the House on Saturday evening. After all the debate was over on the massive health care reform bill, the Stupak Amendment was put up for a short, intense debate. Pro-lifers — particularly the Democrats — took the floor to implore their colleagues to reject the idea of federal funding for abortion. Pro-abortion representatives replied with the usual panoply of misleading falsehoods.

And in the end, it was up to Chris Smith, the pro-life hero from New Jersey, to take the floor and bring the Amendment home. His eloquent speech highlighted the disastrous effect abortion has on women. He cited the statistics from The Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, which show that public funding for abortion increases the abortion rate by 25%. Using that statistic, Mr. Smith ended with a ringing call to save lives.

After a short debate on a Republican amendment, the voting on the Stupak Amendment took place. I watched on C-Span (political junkie, remember?) as the tally was displayed. Slowly the “Yea” votes inched towards the magic number — 218, which would give it a majority of the House. The key number was the Democrats who voted “yea”. Finally, after the time for voting ended, the tally continued to add up the last-minute votes. The result — the Stupak Amendment passed, 240 to 194, with 64 Democrats crossing the aisle to give the measure the margin of victory.

Make no mistake about it. This is a huge victory for the pro-life movement, in perhaps the most significant legislative vote on abortion in the last thirty years. Even though this battle isn’t over (the scene switches to the Senate now), this lays down a critical line in the sand. A large majority of Americans, and a solid bi-partisan majority in Congress, understand that abortion is not health care, and they don’t want public funding for the destruction of human life. Any bill that is passed by the Senate, or by Congress as a whole, will have to respect that.

You can tell how important this is, because the Cult of Moloch has exploded in anger. They’ve even dusted off all the usual anti-Catholic bilge, claiming that the Bishops now control the U.S. Government. (If only!). I suppose that one shouldn’t take pleasure in the agonies of others, but man, I’m enjoying the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the pro-abortion crowd.

With this vote, the House has said that if there is to be health care reform, it will not include federal funding for abortion on demand. How did this happen? A combination of political and spiritual factors. We need to be grateful to the pro-life Democrats, who stayed true, despite intense pressure from the House leadership, and to the Republican leadership, who kept all their members on board. We should be very grateful for our Bishops and the other pro-life groups, who did tremendous work on this measure. The huge effort of grassroots people, who have been writing and calling Congress, had the required effect, and underscores the importance of basic advocacy efforts.

But most of all, of course, we need to be grateful to God. Pro-life spiritual warriors across the nation have been storming heaven with prayers and fasting over this, and God in His great goodness heard their prayers.

This battle isn’t over. But we have won a victory, and we should give thanks.

It’s Time, Mr. President

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Now that three different health care reform bills have been passed by Congressional committees, the leaders of Congress, together with the Administration, are working to produce a final bill.

It’s time for the President to deliver on his promise, made to the public at a joint session of Congress, that “under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.”Time is starting to run out, because the current situation is that abortion would most definitely be paid for by federal money — by our tax dollars, against our will.

The status quo, right now, is that federal funds are not used to pay for elective abortions. Federal employee benefit plans do not cover elective abortions, and federal health insurance programs for the poor (Medicaid) also do not pay for elective abortions. If individuals wish to have an elective abortion, they must either pay for it with their own money or obtain a private insurance plan that covers elective abortion.

But all of the health care reform bills in Congress would change this status quo. All of the bills define the services that must be covered in health insurance plans by using terminology such as “outpatient services”, “family planning”, “physicians’ services”, “preventive services”, etc. Federal courts have interpreted all of these terms to include abortion. In fact, some of the bills explicitly require federal funding for elective abortions, while others require that at least some federally-subsidized insurance plans cover elective abortions. Every attempt so far to amend these bills to explicitly exclude abortion funding has been defeated.

In addition, each of the bills would give the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to define what kind of services would be included in the benefits that a private insurance plan must provide. Given the pro-abortion position of the current Administration, there is little doubt that abortion would be included among those benefits.

Unless the President and the leaders of Congress — including the Catholic Speaker of the House — do something, the final health care bill will require federal funding and insurance coverage for elective abortions. And, for the first time, federal law will define elective abortion to be “health care”, even though it’s the only medical procedure that is intended to kill someone.

One of the worst parts of this whole debate has been the level of misinformation coming from the proponents of health care reform, including from the White House itself. We are repeatedly told by Senators, pundits, and the White House spokesman, that we don’t need to worry, because the Hyde Amendment will prevent federal dollars from being spent on elective abortions.

That’s just flat out false, and it’s so obviously false that it’s hard to believe that any reasonably well-informed person could believe it.

The reality is this. The Hyde Amendment limits federal Medicaid funding for abortion to those cases where it is necessary to preserve the life of the mother, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. It will not apply to the pending health insurance reform plans, which will be paid for outside of the normal funding stream that covers Medicaid. Also, the Hyde Amendment is not a permanent federal statute — it is an amendment to the budget that has to be passed every year, and which can be removed at any time at the whim of the majority in Congress (or the leaders who control the amendments that are permitted). This is why each of the pending health care reform bills has to be specifically amended to exclude abortion coverage and payments. Yet every attempt so far to do so has been defeated — by the same people who tell us that we have nothing to worry about.

The bottom line is this — it’s time for the President to show that he’s a man of his word, and for Catholics in Congress to show that their faith means something to them. They must support amendments to exclude abortion from health care reform.

What Are You Supporting?

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

It is simple common sense that when you support a piece of legislation, you are supporting what the bill will actually do. It doesn’t matter what your private motives are, or even what your long-term goals are. If you support a bill, you support what it will do.

This is relevant because another of those “common ground to reduce abortions” bills has been introduced in Congress, and a number of Catholics have announced their support for it.

This time, it’s the so-called “Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act.” (H.R.3312). The Pro-Life Secretariat of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops calls the bill “the Planned Parenthood Economic Stimulus Package of 2009″. I prefer the name the “Phony Baloney Common Ground Pretend to Reduce Abortion by Throwing Obscene Gobs of Money at the Temple of Moloch, er, I mean Planned Parenthood, so They Can Flood the World With Contraceptives and Degrading Sex Education Act”. It’s a little long, but it captures the essence of the thing.

Like it or not, and regardless of their motives, here is what the backers of this bill are supporting:

  • A requirement that all states pay for all abortions for low-income women through “family planning” and Medicaid programs — despite the fact that the clearest way to reduce abortions is to restrict public funding for them, and the best way to increase abortions is to pay for them.
  • A massive increase funding for the federal Title X Family Planning Program — despite the fact that the bulk of this money goes to the largest abortion “provider” in the United States, Planned Parenthood, we already spend over $1 billion on this program, and Title X requires that teenagers receive contraceptives without parental knowledge or consent.
  • Relying almost exclusively on contraceptives to reduce pregnancy — despite the fact that it has been documented that such a strategy does not reduce pregnancy or abortions, but rather increases them.
  • Making family planning services a mandatory Medicaid entitlement in all states, and greatly expanding family planning eligibility under Medicaid — despite the fact that there is hardly a shortage of contraceptives in the United States (New York City’s Health Department gives out over a million free condoms each month!).
  • Increased funding for indecent sex education programs that do more to corrupt the morals of minors than encourage them to abstain from sex until marriage. In fact, the bill doesn’t even mention the word “abstinence”, and it says absolutely nothing about reserving sex for marriage, but instead merely talks about teaching teens to “delay” sex (until when, senior prom?).
  • Encourages even more grants to “nonprofit community” groups to do sex education — which is to say, throw more money at Planned Parenthood so they can sell more contraceptives and do more abortions when they fail.

Look, “common ground” is a nice place to be, and it’s encouraging that people want to reduce the number of abortions. Plus, the bill does have some good elements, such as support for adoption, expansion of prenatal and neonatal health care, and support for nutrition programs. But those good elements — without the bad stuff — are already present in a genuine pro-life bill that will likely result in real reductions in abortion, the “Pregnant Women Support Act”.

Remember, you have to look carefully at what it is you’re supporting. Good ends can never justify evil means. The “Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act” uses evil means, funds evil organizations, and is likely to have evil results.

No Catholic in good conscience can support such a bill.

A Disgraceful Vote in Congress

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Last Friday, a unique opportunity was presented to the Members of Congress to stop funneling federal money to the most prolific killer of children in the United States — Planned Parenthood.

I frequently refer to Planned Parenthood as “The Temple of Moloch”, after one of the demonic “gods” of the Canaanites, who was worshiped by parents sacrificing their children by passing them through fire (see 1 Kings 11:7 and Jeremiah 7:30-31). In effect, worship of this monstrous “god” takes place in Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinics every day of the week in our nation.

Planned Parenthood is one of our culture’s favored “charities”, despite the fact that it has racked up the following dubious accomplishments:

  • Performing over half of the abortions committed in the United States since the 1970′s — over 300,000 each year.
  • A major distributor of contraceptives, with a special target of young unmarried people.
  • Swallowing at least $300 million in taxpayer money each year — yes, you read that correctly, at least $300,000,000 of your hard-earned money goes to Planned Parenthood thanks to our federal government; they get millions more from state governments.
  • Tirelessly pushing the pernicious anti-life agenda in international agencies and in foreign countries.
  • Routinely covering up the rape of minors by failing to report that children have been made pregnant by adults.
  • Relentless distributor of “sex education” materials that, if handed to a child on the street by a stranger would undoubtedly lead to an arrest for distributing child pornography.
  • Vigorous advocacy for anti-life public policies, and financial supporter of “pro-choice” politicians.

If you want to see the “culture of death” all in one place, take a look at Planned Parenthood.

One Congressman, Mike Pence from Ohio, has decided that enough is enough, and introduced an amendment to a budget bill that would have denied federal funding for Planned Parenthood. If you have a few minutes, take a look at the video of Rep. Pence on the floor of the House, explaining the rationale of his amendment.

The amendment was defeated by the House, 247 to 183. No surprise there, given the composition of the House. But what about the Catholic legislators?

Now, when confronted with this kind of situation, Catholic legislators have a very grave obligation to promote the defense of human life. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, said:

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection…. In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it.”

Our own bishops of the United States have stated:

Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good.

So, how did the Catholic members of Congress do, when faced with the opportunity to cut off funding for an organization whose primary activity is intrinsically evil, and a chance to vote to reduce a grave sin against justice? They did very poorly. Of the 136 Catholic members of Congress, 84 opposed Rep. Pence’s effort to defund Planned Parenthood. Only 46 supported it.

Here’s how the Catholic representatives from New York voted:

To continue funding Planned Parenthood: Michael Arcuri, Tim Bishop, Joseph Crowley, John Hall, Brian Higgins, Maurice Hinchey, Dan Maffei, Eric Massa, Michael McMahon, José Serrano, Paul Tonko, Nydia Velázquez

To cut off funding for Planned Parenthood: None.

That’s right, none.

Disgraceful.

Cardinal Egan once wrote:

“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.”

Congress is going out of session this Friday so Members can come back to their districts to consult with their constituents. Don’t miss this opportunity to consult with them about this disgraceful vote.

The Threat of FOCA to Religious Liberty

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

There is an argument going around right now by some uninformed persons — and some people with an agenda — that alleges that pro-lifers are playing “Chicken Little” about the Freedom of Choice Act. They are saying that FOCA would not be a threat to the conscience rights of Catholic institutions, and that it is false to say that Catholic hospitals might have to close if FOCA becomes the law of the land.

Actually, the threat of FOCA is very real, and cannot be so easily brushed away.

FOCA is a very far-reaching bill. It would change current law by establishing a “fundamental right” to abortion before viability for any reason, and for reasons of the mother’s life and health after viability. It would prohibit any level of government from “discriminat[ing] against the exercise of [the right to an abortion] in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information”. Note that FOCA’s definition of “government” would encompass not just federal agencies, but also states, cities, counties, and local school districts; no public agency or institution would be exempt, and all would be required to enforce it. It also has a provision that ensures that all previous laws or regulations are superseded — no currently existing laws would remain valid if they conflict with FOCA.

Remember also that federal law supersedes all inconsistent state laws, thanks to the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. As a result, all federal and state conscience protection laws that conflict with FOCA would be void.

Here’s what this means for institutions and individuals. All state licensing and regulatory decisions would have to ensure that there is no “discrimination ” against the “fundamental right” to abortion declared by FOCA. Hospitals, social service agencies, and schools could all lose their tax exempt status and operating licenses if they refuse to perform, refer for, or provide information about abortion. Medicaid and Medicare won’t be permitted to reimburse hospitals that “discriminate” against abortion, so they’ll go broke. Medical, social service and education professionals who choose not to be involved in abortion for religious or moral reasons could also be denied state licenses or subject to professional disciplinary actions. FOCA would also would require state governments to ensure that all health insurance plans do not “discriminate” against abortion, so even the Church would have to pay for abortion for their employees.

FOCA would leave Catholic institutions and individuals defenseless against these threats.

There’s a legitimate argument over whether FOCA has any chance of passing Congress any time soon. But there’s no question of the reality of the threat.

Let’s Keep Our Eyes on the Ball

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Hardly a day goes by any more without me receiving one of those emails. No, not the ones you’re thinking of, although occasionally one of those slips through the spam filter.

I’m talking about the emails that call me to action because the President-elect is actually NOT AN AMERICAN CITIZEN (caps in original, of course). Or the ones that breathlessly denounce the bishops for supporting their own Campaign for Human Development because the recipients of some of the grants turn out to be left-wing community organizing groups that — horrors! — favor Democrats. Or the ones urging me to drop everything and oppose some piece of legislation or another that has been introduced in one of the houses of the New York legislature, and don’t I know what horrible things will ensue! Or the ones reminding me that the head of a major pro-life organization has denounced a pro-life newspaper and a religious community known for loyalty to the Church, because he thinks they are now “part of the problem” since they dared to call for civility in dealing with the incoming President.

Sorry, but I’m not biting. I can’t handle so many distractions. We need to do “issue triage” and work on the most urgent issues, leaving others aside for the time being. As I see them, here are the priorities:

1. The “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA), and its New York State equivalent, the “Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act” (RHAPP) — These extremist bills would go far beyond the horrors of Roe v. Wade and make it impossible to pass any reasonable regulation of abortion. They would also endanger the freedom of conscience of Catholic hospitals and health care workers.
2. Same-sex “marriage” — This would transform the traditional understanding of marriage to include relationships that are not rooted in the natural complementarity of the sexes, and would permanently de-link human sexuality from the procreation and education of children. It would also inevitably threaten religious liberty by coercing religious people and institutions into recognizing these unions.
3. Waiving the Statute of Limitations — This bill would permit lawsuits by victims of clerical sexual abuse, even though their claims are so old that the law would otherwise prohibit them, if they had been brought against any other defendant (which is made clear by the fact that all public institutions — like public schools — are exempt from this bill). Make no mistake — this bill is a direct, targeted attack on the Catholic Church, and would threaten to bankrupt our dioceses, parishes, and institutions.

Just for the record, in my opinion, the ludicrous and baseless “President-elect isn’t a citizen” stories should be relegated to the fever swamps of the Internet where the UFO enthusiasts reside. Sure, I wish the Campaign for Human Development would support other groups — maybe some pro-life ones would be nice — but I’m not consulted about that (or about much else, to tell you the truth); if I don’t like the recipients, I should withhold my donation. Yes, there are lots of bad bills out there, but I can’t fight them all. And no, I refuse to go along with pro-life “friendly fire” incidents that only sap morale and give aid and comfort to the enemy.

The fact of the matter is that we are at war. We cannot fight every battle. We must concentrate our forces on the most significant strategic threats, not on side shows. We’re out-numbered, out-gunned, and out-moneyed by our opposition. We can’t afford to be distracted.

So, please don’t send those emails around any more, and please focus on the most important issues.

The game is at stake. We need to keep our eyes on the ball.

Sit Down and Shut Up

Monday, December 1st, 2008

As we sit here, preparing for Christmas, it is the calm before the next storm. Soon, our religious liberties will be under attack in a way not seen since the early days of the Republic. And I’m not talking about the annual battle over crèches or menorahs.

With the upcoming changes in control of the New York State Senate, and the incoming Administration and new Congress in Washington, several pieces of legislation pose significant and alarming threats to our freedom of conscience. In Albany, we’re talking about the “Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act” (“RHAPP”) and the same-sex “marriage” bill. In Washington, we’re looking at the “Freedom of Choice Act” (“FOCA”) and various other regulations that affect religious freedom. Here in New York City we’ve got the new abortion clinic access bill.

FOCA or RHAPP are both extreme bills that would establish abortion as a “fundamental right”, and make it impossible to pass common-sense regulations of abortion, like parental notification laws. But they would also undermine or eliminate the conscience protections in law that protect religious liberties, under the guise of eliminating “discrimination” against the newly-recognized “fundamental right”. Church-owned hospitals, social service agencies, and schools could be required to promote, perform, or refer for abortions. Our schools could be required to help pregnant girls to get an abortion, or risk being sued for “discrimination”. And the licenses of doctors, nurses, and other professionals could be at risk if they don’t promote, perform or refer for abortions.

Also on the federal level, the current Administration has put forward proposed regulations that would grant greater protection to doctors, nurses, and health care institutions that have conscientious objections to abortion and other morally-objectionable procedures. As simple as that sounds, there has been talk that the new Administration may rescind those regulations as soon as it takes office.

Legalizing “same sex marriage” in Albany would also inevitably endanger religious liberty. Proclaiming Church teaching about homosexual behavior will be called “bigotry” or even prosecuted as “hate speech”. Religious organizations will be coerced into recognizing the equivalence of marriage and same-sex relationships, and we will be forced to withdraw from important activities, such as education and social service. We’ve seen this threat in some areas, with broadly drafted “human rights” bills, and it’s already happened in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

The new clinic access bill before the City Council has been deliberately drafted to be so vague as to chill the free speech rights of sidewalk counselors outside abortion clinics. It is even possible that people who merely want to pray outside of the clinics will be the subject of harassing arrests and lawsuits, merely because they want to give witness to their faith and their belief in the dignity of human life.

On top of all of this we have the anti-religious ugliness in the reaction to the passage of Prop 8, the California law that preserved the traditional meaning of marriage. We’re still waiting for the wave of condemnation of this bigotry from the media and the political classes.

The common theme here is a hostility to the religious belief, and an apparent desire to expel religious believers from public debate and from certain professions or businesses. In essence, we would be forced to do things against our conscience, and be forced to stop teaching what we believe.

To be authentic disciples of Christ, we must bring our religious beliefs into the public square and robustly debate them with those of differing views. We will not be silent, or be intimidated into silence.

We will not sit down and shut up.