The juxtaposition of events couldn’t have been more stark. Nor could the message be any clearer — the current Administration has a deep-seated, inveterate hostility to religious freedom.
The first event happened just last week, in its most important religious liberty decision in decades, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the autonomy of churches to act according to their beliefs, without government intrusion. The case was Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and I’ve written about it before. Essentially, the case involved the ability of churches and other religious organizations to choose their own leaders, according to their religious beliefs.
It’s important to note that, in deciding the case, the Supreme Court specifically rejected the Administration’s argument that churches have no special protection in the choice of their leaders, and should be given no more deference in such decisions than any other association — like a bowling league. This, despite the fact that the First Amendment grants clear, specific protection to the freedom of religion.
That was a bold example of the radicalism of this Administration, and their disdain for religious freedom. Fortunately, the Supreme Court can actually read the Constitution, and understands what it means — and handed down the clearly correct ruling.
The second event happened today. The Administration announced that it was going to issue final regulations that would require religious organizations to provide full health insurance coverage for sterilization, abortifacient drugs, and contraceptives. A very narrow exemption was granted, but it is so tiny in its coverage that few, if any, organizations will qualify. I’ve written about this regulation before as well.
Religious organizations of all denominations had denounced this plan, and had called for a broader exemption, in order to respect the conscience rights of those who object to being forced to pay for morally offensive drugs and procedures. Yet the Administration disdained their request, and made no changes in the proposal.
Again, you could not ask for a clearer example of the hostility of this Administration towards religious freedom. The secularist, anti-life ideology of our rulers will not compromise, and will force all others to conform.
Sometimes, things are seen most clearly from a distance. Yesterday, Pope Benedict received some of the bishops of the United States at one of their periodic “ad limina” meetings. In his remarks to the bishops, the Holy Father made some pointed observations about the threats to religious liberty:
it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.
Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.
The Holy Father is right. We as lay Catholics need to take action to defend our freedom, and the freedom of our Church.
Remember, elections matter.