Huffpost Religion
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Sister Mary Ann Walsh Headshot

Religious Freedom Campaign: It's Only Just Begun

Posted: Updated:

The bishops' Fortnight for Freedom is over, but the concern for religious liberty has only begun to be heard. The two-week launch got people listening and praying. Now where do those who want to stand up for religious freedom go?

The answer is everywhere because religious freedom is a worldwide concern. Read the newspapers and you see massacres in churches in Nigeria and Iraq. Look to neighboring Cuba and you see how religious freedom has been severely restricted under the Castro regime.

Look in the United States, where freedom of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment's free exercise clause, and you see a sophisticated type of assault. It is unbloody, but far-reaching. Ironically, the assaults are not from some guerilla group or despot, but from the government. Foreign nations that look to the U.S. to protect their religious freedom have to shudder.

The assaults vary, but what they have in common is preventing religious bodies from operating according to their moral standards. For example, through the new Affordable Care Act most employers, including many religious ones, are compelled to provide free-of-charge to employees and their families contraception, female sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even when they violate church teachings. Government, in a miserly gesture, says it will grant an exception to entities it defines as religious enough to merit protection of their religious liberty. That means the parish church is religious enough but not the church's hospitals, schools, colleges, soup kitchens and other social services. You may think the latter obviously are religious works but the government says they are not if you serve needy people other than your co-religionists.

Catholicism calls Catholics to help those in need.

Hard to live out the free exercise of your religion with this HHS mandate, the first of its kind in U.S. history. To add insult to injury, for centuries these church services have very effectively helped people who otherwise would have had to rely on government for such care. In fact, one out of six people in the U.S. who need hospital care get it at a Catholic hospital.

Catholic foster care and adoption services were forced to close in major metropolitan areas when Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia and the State of Illinois drove local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services. They did it by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts or both because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit. While the Catholic Church holds that a marriage is between a man and a woman and that children are best raised in a mother-father family unit, the government says if you hold that religious view, you have to give up a longstanding church ministry through which orphaned or otherwise needy children have been helped.

It's not just Catholics who are afflicted. New York City adopted a policy that barred the Bronx Household of Faith and other churches from renting public school property on weekends for worship services, even though nonreligious groups could rent the same schools for many other uses. Is prayer more threatening than hoops? A few days ago a federal court finally ended this discriminatory policy, though appeals may continue.

In its entire history, the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage. Does it threaten the public well-being to require a Christian organization to be led by a Christian?

A New Jersey judge recently found that a Methodist ministry violated state law when the ministry declined to allow two women to hold a "civil union" ceremony on its private property. Also recently, a civil rights complaint was filed against the Catholic Church in Hawaii by those wanting to use a chapel to hold a same-sex "marriage" ceremony. Is the country better for such in-your-face rejection of a church's teaching?

The religious freedom campaign has an uphill battle before it, but it is hard to imagine our nation won't be better for it. Not to mention those nations where people subjected to bloody religious battles barely have a prayer now.