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Chancellor Encourages Catholic Students to Join Effort to Defend Religious Freedom

By Mark ZimmermanMy Catholic Standard: Archdiocese of Washington
Posted on: Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Amid growing threats to religious freedom in the United States, Catholics should stand united in defending the “first freedom,” said Jane Belford, the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington, in a May 7 talk at Oakcrest School in McLean. She addressed about 120 students from the upper school of the all-girls’ Catholic school that is sponsored by the prelature of Opus Dei.

Belford noted people around the world face severe threats to their religious freedom, as churches have been bombed and people of faith have been tortured or persecuted for their beliefs. But religious liberty is also increasingly threatened in the United States, she said.

Noting Maryland’s status as the birthplace of religious freedom in the United States, she also pointed out the fragility of that right, as a colony established in the mid-1600s under the ideals of religious toleration within decades enforced decrees that prevented Catholics from practicing their religion in public. Religious freedom, she noted, became a cornerstone of the new United States, enacted in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

That right of religious freedom, Belford said, is threatened by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that requires employers to provide health insurance coverage to employees for abortifacient drugs, contraception and sterilization procedures. That mandate would require Catholic institutions to violate Church teaching or face severe financial penalties. To be exempt from the mandate, religious employers would have to primarily be engaged in inculcating their beliefs, would have to hire primarily employees of their own faith and serve people of their own faith. Belford called those conditions “unthinkable” for Catholics, who by Baptism are called to be “our brothers’ keeper,” and help those in need, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Belford called the action by the Obama Administration, through its HHS mandate, “an unprecedented” assault against religious liberty. “For the first time, the government is defining what constitutes religion.” The issue, she said, is critical for people of all faiths, not just Catholics. “The problem is, we have a government that has determined we’re not entitled to practice our religious liberty.”

Efforts to remedy the mandate through proposed legislation has stalled in Congress and has stalled in conversations with the White House, Belford said. The best solution might be to block the mandate through legal action, she added. “I believe in the court of law, our rights under the federal Constitution will be upheld.”

The chancellor also noted that many misconceptions exist about the mandate. People wrongly believe that “it’s been fixed” after President Obama announced an “accommodation” on Feb. 10. Belford said two weeks later, the mandate was published in the Federal Register, “and not one word was changed.”

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About Preserve Religious Freedom

This lawsuit is about religious freedom and our ability to serve the public, not about contraception. The Church maintains that the First Amendment protects the Catholic Church's ability to serve the public in accordance with its faith and to operate its religious institutions without government interference. The argument challenges the way the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defines what is, and is not, a religious institution. By including an exemption at all, the government apparently agrees that, in keeping with decades of practice and precedent, religious institutions should not be compelled to purchase drugs or procedures that violate deeply held religious or moral beliefs.

But, the Administration's HHS mandate defines religious ministry so narrowly that religious schools, hospitals, and social services don't qualify as religious, and must therefore provide these drugs and procedures. This violates the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom. It forces religious organizations to sacrifice their beliefs in order to be able to continue their mission of serving the public. Read more about the plaintiffs filing this lawsuit here.

Preserve Religious Freedom
c/o Archdiocese of Washington
P.O. Box 29260
Washington, DC 20017-0260

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