Rallying for Religious Liberty

Today is the second anniversary of the passage of the health care reform bill, known as the Affordable Care Act. Today was also a day on which thousands of Americans, across our nation, gathered at rallies to defend religious liberty.

I was privileged to address the rally at Federal Hall in lower Manhattan, both to add a few words of my own, and to read a letter of support from Cardinal Dolan.

We stood in the shadow of the statue of George Washington, one of the great defenders of religious liberty. We gathered at the spot where the first Congress enacted the Bill of Rights. We were there to decry the threat to religious liberty posed by the Affordable Care Act.

In his encyclical, The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul warned of the dangers of a totalitarian form of democracy — where laws are enacted that violate the fundamental moral law, and endanger authentic freedom and dignity.

The ACA takes a dangerous step in that direction. To understand this, we must look behind the details of mandates, “accommodations” and “compromises”. We must recognize that the ACA embodies a totalitarian mindset that is fundamentally incompatible with liberty.

This law reaches every American citizen, every American business, every religious organization. Its reach is unprecedented, and vast. All individuals and institutions in America will be brought into line with an state-approved anti-life ideology that views fertility as a threat, pregnancy as a disease, and children as a burden to be eliminated. Churches and religious organizations will be defined by the government, and vulnerable to penalties if they dissent or resist. Faith-based institutions will be subject to intrusive investigation by officials who will pass judgment on the nature and legitimacy of their religious purpose and the beliefs of their staffs and the people they serve. Religious people will be coerced into speech and actions that endorse and promote things they find morally reprehensible. Even members of religious communities, like the Sister of Life, will be forced to violate their sacred vows or face punitive fines.

The temptation is to tinker around the edges of this threat, make compromises, and protect narrow institutional interests. But all that does is delay the inevitable, and lull us back into denial.

Surely we have passed that point, and instead have reached what biographer Eric Metaxas has called a “Bonhoeffer moment”. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German Lutheran theologian, worked mightily to resist the National Socialist ideology and the Nazi regime. At first, he tried to do so within the system, but eventually he realized that this was not possible, and that he had reached a time to stand firmly but lovingly in defense of religious liberty and the Church, even to the point of suffering.

By no means am I comparing our current government with the wicked Nazi regime. But evil laws come in many flavors and sizes. The laws of our nation that authorize the slaughter of the unborn are evil. The laws that permit the government to restrict the right to conscience of individuals and Churches are evil. It does not matter that they are enacted through the democratic process and have the veneer of legality. They offend against the laws of God and natural human rights.

We cannot let things go further down the path to totalitarian democracy. We must speak the truth with love, and resist by all lawful and peaceful means.

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