As the Easter season draws to a close and we approach Pentecost Sunday, we turn our attention to the joys and obligations that come from being disciples of Christ and witnesses to his Gospel. In an increasingly secular society, we find a growing intolerance for expressions of faith, particularly in the public square. Some may say that’s just the way things are now. There are times, though, when we are compelled – as Catholics and as Americans – to stand up in defense of the rights bestowed on us by our Creator and protected by the United States Constitution. This is one of those times.
Today, the Archdiocese of Washington filed a lawsuit to protect its religious freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Joining the archdiocese in the same lawsuit are Archbishop Carroll High School, Inc.; Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, Inc.; the Consortium of Catholic Academies of the Archdiocese of Washington, Inc., and The Catholic University of America. This local lawsuit is one of 12 actions filed nationwide today on behalf of 43 separate Catholic dioceses and institutions around the country.
The Church did not choose this fight or its timing. For the past several months, the U.S. bishops have repeatedly communicated with the federal government to express our view that the HHS mandate, which is now federal law, violates our First Amendment protections by dramatically redefining religious ministry and forcing the Church to provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilizations to its employees. A particular concern that we have expressed many times is that, contrary to long-standing federal precedent, for purposes of being exempted from its requirements, the mandate defines a religious organization as one that primarily serves and employs people of its own faith. Catholic schools and universities, hospitals and social service ministries are not considered “religious enough” because they employ and serve people of all faiths, not just Catholics. Unfortunately, none of our efforts to find a resolution through the legislative and executive branches has been successful.
The courts exist, though, to protect the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. Through the legal action filed today, the archdiocese and the other plaintiffs are simply asking the court to review the law to resolve this dispute fairly, once and for all. The Church believes that the core constitutional principles at stake here – the free exercise of religion and the separation of Church and State – merit our participation in this legal action.
For more information about the legal action and our effort to defend religious freedom, I invite you to visit www.preservereligiousfreedom.org, a newly created website dedicated to providing updates about this important endeavor. There, you will find background information about the HHS mandate we are challenging, related news, and information on how you might become involved in defending religious freedom.
In addition, to further advance our support for religious liberty, I invite you to a special event to publicly witness to our faith and our freedom in the nation’s capital. On June 24, 2012, the Archdiocese of Washington will host a “Celebration of Freedom” as part of our response to the U.S. bishops’ call for a “Fortnight for Freedom”. The rally will be held at the Smith Center of The George Washington University. Together with prayer and inspirational music, this rally will feature a video that highlights our heritage of religious freedom and the vital contributions of Catholics to building this nation. Please join us for this wonderful event to celebrate our faith and, most importantly, to pray for our liberty. For more information and to register, visit www.sacredproperty.org.
Let us respond to the call of our faith with hope and confidence. As Christ himself told us, “…I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:32-33).