Freedom of Religion Under Assault

I have to stop blogging and start writing two columns and an introduction to a book, but I wanted to just encourage you to be aware of two important stories, and perhaps take the time to make a phone call or send an email:

Julie at Happy Catholic writes:

…Margaret at ten thousand places rightly points out that this is a much bigger issue. Which is, of course, what Keith Rothfus points out in his letter.

And, I forgot that today is the deadline.

Today is the last day to voice your concerns with HHS of the lack of conscience protection over healthcare mandates to provide contraceptive and sterilization services. This is a huge, grave issue, and a threat to our first amendment rights–the free practice of religion. This is not a question of whether the use of use of contraceptives is morally permissible. This is not a debate about the morality of contraception, rather it is about our rights as American citizens. The issue is that our right of conscience is about to be violated on a large, legal, irrefutable scale. The right of conscience is fundamental to our understanding and protection of human liberty.

As Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the USCCB wrote:

The U.S. Constitution acknowledged the significance of the role of the First Estate, when it declared that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

It is a clear message that government must not stick its proverbial camel’s nose under the church tent. Now, however, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has gone beyond nuzzling its nose where it does not belong. It has plunked itself right in the middle of the sanctuary. It is trying to define what a religion does and does not do.

This misguided move comes with a proposed HHS regulation to guide implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The regulation for the new health care reform bill demands that all health plans pay for contraceptives, sterilizations and education to use both.

In a tacit acknowledgment that this violates the Constitution’s cherished respect for religious liberty, HHS provides an exemption for religious employers — but with a catch. The church agency can only claim exemption if it primarily serves people of its own faith. It also must meet other requirements, such as employing mostly people of its own faith.

This means HHS is setting itself up to determine what constitutes church ministry and who Jesus meant when he referred to serving “the least of my brethren.”

This is not, as someone rather snottily mischaracterized it in another combox, about the loss of a “religious entitlement” — this is about the destruction of a fundamental (and founding) right within our constitution.

If this administration is not stopped, this assault will not affect only Catholics. This will create a precedent that is going to affect all believers, all religions. If you can, make a phone call, drop an email.

Clearly this will end up in the Supreme Court. And if Obama is re-elected he’ll have quite a strong chance of naming a couple more Justices. As Pat Gohn wrote to her Godson: “Guard what you have been given!”

Meanwhile, yes, the White House has condemned the conviction of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani for the “crime” of converting to Christianity, and good for them, but let’s make some noise to our representatives and the State Department.

And more than anything, let us pray for Youcef! I think we’re probably on a brink of seeing increased martyrdoms on the Christian and Orthodox Jewish sides, don’t you?

It’s a little strange to see our government tell another government what to do about a Christian when our own government is telling Christians what they can’t or “must” do. Isn’t it?

Oh, Irony.

And with that, I’m out of here for the day.

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