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Religious Freedom

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Moses Seixas of the Hebrew Congregation of Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I. wrote to George Washington that it was not "by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise, of their inherent natural rights.'' Rather, "happily the Government of the United States... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance... ''

Yet today, President Obama's Health and Human Services mandate seeks to undermine the First Amendment and place the federal government in a position of assistance to do just that. The HHS mandate, part of the Affordable Care Act, requires employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, with no exceptions for religious institutions. If religious institutions fail to follow the mandate, they will be fined. Which begs the question, is it acceptable for the U.S. government to place a fine on faith? And what kind of a message does that send to people around the world about American freedom?

For many -- both men and women -- the mandate goes against their conscience of faith. Our nation has long been the gold standard where freedom, liberty and human rights are concerned, but the mandate not only makes a mockery of our forefathers' very efforts to protect religion from government interference, but puts into question the very virtues every president and secretary of state has extolled to nations abroad.

In May 1988, President Reagan signed a U.S. Senate resolution condemning persecution by the Soviet government of religious believers in the Ukraine. In 1998 Bill Clinton signed into law the International Religious Freedom Act which allows the United States to respond when persons in other countries are persecuted for their religious beliefs. And in 2011, President Obama appointed Rev. Suzann Johnson-Cook as his Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom to promote and monitor religious freedom around the world. Her office publishes an annual report of 198 countries, and if a country is a concern, they can be penalized with fines.

We cannot go to other countries and tell their leaders to honor liberty, religious freedom, and human rights if we are failing to practice them in our own backyard.

There were 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, all affiliated with a religion. Charles Carroll of Carrollton was the lone Catholic whose grandfather immigrated to America to escape the persecution of Catholics in England. Carroll's signature on that Declaration signed almost 223 years ago, was symbolic in many ways.

When Carroll signed the Declaration, it was against the law for a Catholic to hold public office or to vote. The signing of The Declaration of Independence ended this repression.

The Affordable Care Act seeks to reset the clock and push our nation into dark times. The legislation does not demonstrate a commitment to including the beliefs of all Americans. It is an attack on religious freedom, not just for Catholics, but for all those who choose to practice a faith and for those who choose not to.

Every Fourth of July, children who are descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence symbolically tap the Liberty Bell 13 times in honor of those from the original 13 states. Inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia are these words: "Proclaim freedom throughout the land, for all its citizens.'' These words are from the book of Leviticus and refer to the religious freedom that each of those signers was able to live out.

If we truly believe in the First Amendment and its protection of religious freedom, if we believe in the inalienable human rights of peoples across the world, then Americans from every denomination, every belief system across the country, should be compelled to stand together against the HHS mandate. And perhaps those descendants who tap the Liberty Bell will awaken the spirit of our forefathers to once again stir our nation's conscience. For as a great president once said, "If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under."