Religious Liberty Under Attack - Diocesan Letter

Jun 22, 2014

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY UNDER ATTACK
A Concrete Example

For decades, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) has carried out the commitment of the U.S. Bishops to serve and advocate for refugees, asylees, and other forced migrants, immigrants, and other people on the move. Special concern is given to the most vulnerable among these populations, such as the victims of human trafficking. This commitment is rooted in the Gospel mandate that every person is to be welcomed by the disciple as if he or she were Christ Himself, and in the right of every human being to pursue, without constraint, the call to holiness.

MRS developed years of expertise in actively working to end human trafficking and protect those adults and children who have been exploited through trafficking. In 2006, MRS’s Anti-Trafficking Services Program (ATSP) began administering a federal program to provide intensive case management to foreign national victims of human trafficking identified in the U.S. and its territories. In 2010, through its network of subcontracting agencies, ATSP helped survivors of human trafficking from 64 countries, with the largest number of survivors from India, Mexico, Thailand, the Philippines, and Haiti. Survivors had been trafficked on farms, in hotels and casinos, in private homes, in spas, and in other industries for the purposes of forced labor and/or sex trafficking.

However, despite many years of excellent performance by MRS in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, in 2011, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require MRS to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion “services” in violation of Catholic teaching. The federal government refused to award a grant to MRS despite MRS’s earning a far higher objective score from the governmenf s independent grant evaluators than two other organizations that were awarded grants. And those two scored so low that they were deemed unqualified.

Religious institutions should not be disqualified from a government contract based on religious belief, and they do not somehow lose their religious identity or liberty upon entering such contracts. Yet a federal court in Massachusetts, turning religious liberty on its head, declared that the First Amendment requires such a disqualification— that the government somehow violates religious liberty by allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a manner consistent with their beliefs on contraception and abortion. Fortunately, last year, an appeals court vacated this terrible decision. But the possibility of similar suits in the future remains.

Is our most cherished freedom truly under threat? Among many current challenges, the federal government has discriminated against Catholic humanitarian services based on their religious beliefs, even when those beliefs had no impact on performance. Religious liberty is more than freedom of worship; it includes our ability to make our contribution to the common good of all Americans without having to compromise our faith. Without religious liberty properly understood, all of us suffer, especially victims of human trafficking in need of important humanitarian services.

What can you do to ensure the protection of religious freedom at home and abroad?  The U.S. Bishops have called for a Fortnight for Freedom from June 21 to July 4, 2014. Please visit www.fortnight4freedom.org for more information on this important time of prayer, education, and action in support of religious freedom!

JUNE 21 TO JULY 4, 2014 • FORTNIGHT FOR FREEDOM

What is the Fortnight for Freedom?  The Fortnight for Freedom is a two-week period of prayer for which the United States Bishops have called for to combat the increasing threats to religious liberty at home and abroad.

This year, the bishops would like to emphasize the link between religious liberty and service to the poor and vulnerable and has proposed the theme of the freedom to serve the poor according to our beliefs.

These bulletin insert explains many of the major issues surrounding religious liberty.

What do we mean by religious liberty?

In Catholic teaching, the Second Vatican Council explained in Dignitatis Humanae that the foundation of the principle of religious freedom is rooted in the dignity of the human person, who is endowed with reason and free will, and therefore able to take responsibility of his or her actions. Religious liberty is protected in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in federal and state laws. Religious liberty includes more than our ability to go to Mass on Sundays or pray the Rosary at home; it also encompasses our ability to contribute freely to the common good of all Americans.

What is the First Amendment?  

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states the following: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

What does "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" mean?

This phrase, known as the "Establishment Clause," started out as a prohibition on Congress' either establishing a national religion or interfering with the established religions of the states. It has since been interpreted to forbid state establishments of religion, to forbid governmental preference (at any level) of one religion over another, and to forbid direct government funding of religion.

What does "prohibiting the free exercise thereof" mean?

This phrase, known as the "Free Exercise Clause," generally protects citizens and institutions from government interference with the exercise of their religious beliefs. It sometimes mandates the accommodation of religious practices when such practices conflict with federal, state, or local laws.

How does Pope Francis view religious liberty?

“[R]eligious freedom, viewed as a fundamental human right... includes 'the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one's beliefs in public’.

A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual's conscience, or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques.

This would represent; in effect; a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism. The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority nor ignores the wealth of religious traditions. In the long run, this would feed resentment rather than tolerance and peace." (Evangelii Gaudium, No. 255.)

A Current Concrete Example

Religious Institutions should not be disqualified from a government contract based on a religious belief, and they do not somehow lose their religious identity or liberty upon entering such contracts to provide social services. Yet, the federal court in Massachusetts declared that the First Amendment requires such disqualification—that the government somehow violated religious liberty by allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a manner consistent with their beliefs. Fortunately, last year, an appeal vacated this terrible decision. But the possibility of similar suits in the future remains. All religious bodies deserve the right to make a contribution to the common good of all Americans without having to compromise their faith.

Prepared by the Diocese of Syracuse to build awareness about the issue of the Religious Freedom