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People of faith under attack

In February, we celebrated Presidents’ Day. One of our favorite presidents, Abraham Lincoln, reacted with outrage after an anti-Catholic riot in Louisville, Ky., in 1855. The riot had been instigated by the Know-Nothing Party, whose hostility to African Americans, immigrants and Catholics was legendary. “I am not a Know Nothing. That is certain,” declared Lincoln. How, he asked, could someone like himself, who abhorred the oppression of African Americans, turn around and favor the oppression of immigrants and Catholics?

Lincoln’s rhetoric soared as he denounced those who would reduce the national creed – all persons are created equal – to a crimped allowance of rights for certain favored groups only. “When the Know Nothings get control,” he continued, “I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

Today, we, and all people of faith, are under attack again. Our own government has been developing a pattern that marginalizes believers. They talk about “freedom of worship” (that is, believers staying in their churches), which is a very poor substitute for what our Constitution guarantees, “freedom of religion” (that is, believers fully engaged in the social life of our country). They revoked the USCCB’s grant to combat human trafficking, the best program available, because we would not refer rape victims to abortion clinics. They were on the losing side, thanks be to God, in the Supreme Court’s recent unanimous ruling in favor of religious groups hiring and firing their own religious ministers. I cannot fathom why the government chooses this time in American history to mount such an attack on First Amendment freedoms.

In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decided to force nearly all Catholic employers to cover contraception, abortifacients and sterilization in their health-care plans. In early February, the president announced an “accommodation” that moves us no closer to the liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.

The aim, they say, is to provide women’s reproductive services. These are already available, especially through the government-funded (about half a billion dollars per year) Planned Parenthood. The real aim of this policy is a fundamental re-ordering of society, in ways that deny the sanctity of life and marriage. Why has the Catholic Church been attacked in the past, and why is it being attacked today? The reason is the same across the ages: Because the Church stands for truth, even when it is inconvenient. And those who have an agenda for a more secular future find the Church to be a formidable obstacle.

Many will point out that even large numbers of Catholics do not follow the Church’s teachings about abortion and birth control. This may be true. However, I would dare say that many do not follow her teachings on cheating and stealing and marital fidelity and keeping holy the Sabbath. Our sinfulness, including my own, does not create our teachings. Our teachings flow from a constant tradition originating from Christ himself. The truth does not come from common behavior or from a democratic vote. Rather, it comes from God as revealed in nature, in the Scriptures, and in the wisdom of the ages. Sometimes that truth is inconvenient; sometimes defense of that truth leads to suffering and death, as it did for Jesus. We must be ready to pay the same price.

Our country was founded as a cry for religious freedom, not just in our church buildings, but so that we can be faith-filled people where we work and play and socialize and serve others and engage in political life. And we do serve others – a lot of others – through our schools and health-care institutions and Catholic Charities. We do all this because Jesus taught us to care for the least of his brothers and sisters. All our work in the public arena is the result of our faith. This is a great country, and we have been blessed because we have been allowed to practice our religion openly and freely.

The recent “accommodation” announced by the president does not respect the religious liberty and moral convictions of all those involved in the health-care process. At a minimum, this means that the mandate issued by HHS should be removed completely, and not just “accommodated.” However, can we really trust this department not to meddle with religious freedom in the future? The best route is for Congress to pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act and any other legislation to guarantee our constitutional freedom of religion.

I ask you to contact your United States representative and urge support for the Conscience Act. I ask you to contact our two United States senators, urging them to support fully the religious liberty on which this nation was founded. I especially ask for your prayers, that the Holy Spirit will grant wisdom and courage to those engaged in this important struggle.

Michigan Congressional Contacts:

Senators: Sen. Senator Carl Levin – 202.224.6221 | Sen.Debbie Stabenow – 202.224.4822

Representatives: Dan Benishek  – 202.225.4735 | Bill Huizenga  – 202.225.4401 | Justin Amash  – 202.225.3831 | Dave Camp  – 202.225.3561 | Dale Kildee  – 202.225.3611 | Fred Upton  – 202.225.3761 | Tim Walberg  – 202.225.6276 | Mike Rogers (MI)  – 202.225.4872 | Gary Peters  – 202.225.5802 | Candice Miller  – 202.225.2106 | Thaddeus McCotter  – 202.225.8171 | Sander Levin  –202.225.4961 | Hansen Clarke  – 202.225.2261 | John Conyers Jr.  – 202.225.5126 | John Dingell  – 202.225.4071