Catholic bishops wage war on true religious freedom

Last week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a proclamation that called for every priest, parish and layperson to participate in a “great national campaign” to “defend religious liberty”, which they said is “under attack, both at home and abroad.” In fact, there are more than 100 upcoming “religious freedom” rallies scheduled nationwide.

True religious freedom is the ability to practice your religion and hold your religious beliefs, as long as those beliefs and practices do not infringe upon the religious freedom others, break the laws of the country we live in, or expect special government privileging. The secular character of our government is the best guarantee of the freedom for people of all religions to protect this right—whether they are Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, or any other religion—or non-religion. 

The truth is that religious liberty does not mean that the government should excuse any person or organization from following the law based on their religion, nor does it mean that the government should fund any religious group that uses the funding to further its religious agenda. Religious institutions are not above the law, nor are they entitled to special treatment or funding.

To push its massive attack on true religious liberty, the USCCB is pushing a false definition of religious freedom—and it will be massive.

“This is bigger in that it’s not a one-time thing, not aiming for a specific Sunday” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the communications director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a CNN article. “It’s going to be extensive and it’s going to be occurring over a few years.”

In a statement, the USCCB cited seven examples of what they say are violations of religious freedom. One of the complaints took issue with the federal government for refusing to reauthorize a grant to a Catholic organization that was supposed to serve the victims of sex trafficking but refused to provide or refer the victims to services for abortion and birth control. In other words, they are complaining that they lost a government contract, after they refused to provide the very people they were supposed to be helping, with the necessary care.

In its statement, the USCCB also complained that some states are cutting off contracts to Catholic agencies that discriminate in state adoptions. They also complained about the HHS regulation that religious institutions are not exempt from offering insurance coverage that includes contraception care. Not only did the USCCB complain that they were held to the same laws that secular organization are held to—they feel the government should fund Catholic organizations even if they break the laws of the land.

Catholics for Choice agrees. In a recent statement, they wrote, “[The USCCB] have sought to redefine religious liberty so that it is limited to policies and issues that they support, and in order for them to get their way, they are happy to deny the religious liberty of those who wish to be free from the dictates of the US bishops…The bishops’ idea of ‘religious liberty’ proposes that one narrow interpretation of one religious tradition should be allowed to run roughshod over the religious beliefs of every single American.”

The Supreme Court ruled on this over 130 years ago. In its 1878 decision on Reynolds vs. the United States, the Supreme Court took up the question of whether the government’s laws overruled religious belief and found that they did.  The decision read, in part, “Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could exist only in name under such circumstances.”

And subsequent rulings have been in agreement with the court’s original decision.

In the 1986 case, Bowen v. Roy, the court ruled that “Free exercise clause does not require Government to conduct its internal affairs in ways that comport with the religious beliefs of particular citizens.”

 In 1990, in the case of Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, the court’s decision read, “…the right of free exercise does not relieve individual of obligation to comply with valid or neutral law of general applicability on ground that law proscribes, or requires, conduct that is contrary to his religious practice, as long as law does not violate other constitutional protections.”

The Supreme Court knew then that religious liberty doesn’t put believers above the law but it seems like there are lot of people in America today who need to be reminded of that, including the USCCB, which believes that “religious freedom” gives it the right to ignore U.S. laws and force its brand of religion on the masses.

The USCCB is asking the government to privilege its particular brand of religion over others, under a smoke screen of religious persecution.  Catholics, like every other religious group, are more than welcome to practice their beliefs—that is one of the cornerstones of this country. However, true religious freedom allows for individuals to make their own decisions. What the USCCB and is trying to do is impose its religion on others—a direct affront to true religious freedom.

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