Let me thank you warmly for the opportunity to address you today about the topic of protecting, defending, and fostering religious liberty. In a special way I want to thank you, Fr. Tizio, for your warm words of welcome. Let me also thank those who have organized this event as a follow up to the Fortnight of Freedom held earlier this summer, most particularly Laura Jones, who first alerted me to this important gathering.
As many of you know, I spent most of my adult life as a Marylander. I served as a priest and later as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington before my eleven year stint as a Connecticut Yankee. I have fond memories of many “Lobby Nights” which are still sponsored by the Maryland Catholic Conference. Now that I am back in the neighborhood, I want to tell you how happy I am to serve as your Archbishop and, please God, he will grant me many years to be among you. Warmest thanks for your gracious welcome and your many kindnesses since I began serving here in mid-May.
Just a few weeks after my installation, I traveled to Rome where I received the Pallium from hands of Pope Benedict XVI. The Pallium, made of wool, is worn by Metropolitan Archbishops to symbolize their communion with the Holy Father who strengthens and confirms the faith of his brother bishops. Like the Good Shepherd, the one who receives the Pallium is called to take the lost sheep, place them gently on his shoulders, and bring them to safety.
As such, the Pallium is also a source of encouragement in the work of the bishops of the United States of defending religious freedom. It is a vivid reminder that we do not stand alone in the struggle to protect and promote religious liberty at home and abroad. Christ never abandons his Church, most especially in times of threat, and all of us – clergy, religious, and laity, find Christ’s presence in our communion with Pope Benedict, the Vicar of Christ and the Bishop of Rome. The encouragement of which I speak is not merely theoretical. Time and again the Holy Father has spoken out courageously on behalf of victims of religious persecution in the Middle East and Africa. When the bishops of this region met with the Holy Father earlier this year, he delivered an important discourse on religious liberty which demonstrates his deep understanding of the challenges we are facing.
To tell the truth, many people of good will including many fellow Catholics do not think that religious freedom is threatened in the United States. After all, our churches are open, our institutions continue to function, and on the surface it doesn’t seem as though much has changed. But we are here to look beneath surface, to see clearly the threats, to analyze them, and then to resolve to address them as individuals and as a community of faith.
II. The Premier See and Religious Liberty
The Archdiocese of Baltimore is the first Catholic Diocese in the United States. Founded in 1789, it is at the very heart of the American democratic experiment in which the God-given gift of religious liberty is recognized and protected in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. As you know, the First Amendment has two parts: the first prevents the government from establishing a single national religion, and the second part guarantees our right to the free exercise of religion – not simply freedom of worship but indeed the freedom of believers to influence the culture, to establish and run institutions like schools and hospitals in accord with church teaching, and so forth. This is one of the primary reasons why Americans at the close of the 18th century chose to break with England – to enjoy and practice religious freedom which they understood as granted by God and not by the government.
The nation’s first bishop, John Carroll, hailed from a distinguished Maryland family. Currently I am reading a biography of Charles Carroll of Carrollton entitled “American Cicero” in which the author, Bradley Birzer, sheds light on the family and upbringing of the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. Although the Carroll’s were wealthy and distinguished, they were not exempt from the unjust legal restrictions which Maryland colonial law imposed on its Catholic citizens in the 18th century. Among them was a prohibition against Catholics holding public office. Nonetheless active in colonial politics, Charles Carroll recognized early on that only independence from the British crown would bring about authentic religious and civic freedom in America. He risked his life, family, and property in supporting the revolutionary cause, but he did so, and I quote: “to obtain religious as well as civil liberty” – and he added – “God grant this religious liberty may be preserved in these states to the end of time.”
The history of our country is replete with anti-Catholic attacks. We have only to think of the Know Nothing Party, the Blaine Amendments, efforts to outlaw Catholic schools in Oregon, the anti-Catholic activity of the Ku Klux Klan, and the like. Indeed, an anti-Catholic strain persists in our culture even today. Many see the Church’s hierarchical structure and moral teaching as foreign to a completely secular state. Anti-Catholicism, sadly, remains an underlying current that surfaceswhenever the Church is in crisis from without or from within.
By contrast, one who championed the view that it is indeed possible to be a loyal Catholic and a patriotic American was the 9th Archbishop of Baltimore, James Cardinal Gibbons, who was our Archbishop from 1877 until 1921. On the one hand, he defended this proposition against the anti-Catholic attitudes of his day and, on the other, against Old World suspicion of pluralistic democratic government. Named a Cardinal in 1886, he went to Rome to take possession of his titular Church, Santa Maria in Trastevere, located on a site where it is said that Christians worshipped since the 3rd century. There Gibbons spoke these words: “For myself, as a citizen of the United States, without closing my eyes to our defects as a nation, I proclaim with a deep sense of pride and gratitude, and in this great capital of Christendom, that I belong to a country where the civil government holds over us the aegis of its protection without interfering in the legitimate exercise of our sublime mission as ministers of the Gospel of Christ.”
Gibbons understood that the American experiment was not perfect but he championed the view that our form of government protected the God-given gift of religious freedom and respected the role of churches in buttressing the moral underpinnings so essential for the right use of freedom and for true human flourishing. By preaching, worship, organized programs of charity and education, churches point to the fact that, although we live in a secular culture, we human beings have a transcendent origin and destiny and that it is our responsibility to seek the truth and to be formed in virtue. But today, the vision of our founding Fathers and Gibbons’ own keen understanding as to how to actualize that vision is being relentlessly challenged by an overarching secularism which seeks to marginalize religion, silence its voice in the public square, and force its institutions to conform to secular orthodoxy. And let’s be honest: it has become possible to challenge religious freedom in this way because so many have marginalized religious faith in their own lives. Catholics and others who no longer practice the faith contribute to secularism. To the extent that we fail to bear witness to our faith and to engage in evangelization, we too contribute to a secularism that excludes religious faith from the public square.
III. The Common Good
One of the ways that secularists seek to do this is by embedding in law a definition of what religion is and is meant to do. It is an extremely narrow definition found in the HHS mandate (more on that later) but also in various state laws and it comes to us courtesy of the ACLU. It is a definition that reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship and seeks to confine the Church’s activities to the sacristy. A church activity is deemed “religious” only if the church in question hires its own, serves its own, and exists only to inculcate its own doctrine. But the moment it seeks to serve the common good or influence public opinion then such a church and its activities are deemed “secular” and we are told that we must play by the rules – and the rules often mean violating our own teaching not in preaching but in practice.
Again, by contrast, Pope Benedict points out the responsibility of individual Christians and the Christian community to love our neighbors as God has loved us is at the very heart of the Gospel – and that from the very beginning the Church has responded to this Gospel mandate by means of organized charities–pooling resources and sharing them with the needy. Affirming the human dignity of all, but most especially the vulnerable, and serving the common good of society – is not a secular “add-on” to church activity but rather flows from our life of faith and worship. What we believe and how we worship, gives rise to “a charity that evangelizes” to use the wonderful phrase of Blessed Pope John Paul II. And this is expressed in person-to-person charity, in our educational and charitable institutions, and in our advocacy in the public square for a just and peaceful society, an advocacy that is carried on not from a perspective of blind faith but rather from a perspective of reason enlightened by faith.
Affirming the dignity of individuals and serving the common good is not an easy task. It includes a wide range of human goods. It is not just a question of trying to bring about the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’, for such calculations often exclude minorities and vulnerable. Rather, the common good is achieved when persons are given opportunity to flourish, to fulfill their God-given potential, to develop and use their talents, to flourish physically, socially, and yes, spiritually and religiously. Government has a role to play in bringing about these conditions and probably it will always be a matter of debate how extensive that role should be. Yet, what is often overlooked is the role of intermediate structures that help promote the common good, the conditions for human flourishing. These intermediate structures include the family, churches, schools, and the like. Think for a moment what the breakdown of the family has meant for our culture. Think how many social problems would be headed off at the pass if our children were growing up in strong families, with moms and dads who love each other and their children, who provide role models and teach their children how to relate to the opposite sex, and who impart basic truths and values, who train their children in virtue. For this reason, I urge all of you to be vigorous in upholding marriage as between one man and one women in the upcoming referendum. We need remember the role of these intermediate institutions in democracy. Not only do they help form productive and enlightened citizens, they also stand as a buffer between the power of the state and individual conscience.
Without abandoning its legitimate role in seeing to the health and safety of its citizens, our form of government is obliged to recognize the religious freedom of individuals and the freedom of religion that inheres in religious institutions that serve not only their own members but the common good of society. In a word, protecting the rights and human dignity of individuals and serving the common good through a network of charities and schools are deeply ingrained in the church’s mission.
IV. HHS Mandate
Until recently the Federal Government has accommodated churches that seek to serve the wider society in accord with the faith that inspires such service. It has refrained, by and large, from entangling itself in the internal life of churches and let them serve the common good according their own lights … that is, until now.
In August 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services published its Preventive Services Rule and asked for comment. This rule was part of implementing the Affordable Health Care Act. It required virtually all employers to provide through their employee benefits plans abortion inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. Religious employers could be exempt from doing so if they conformed to a very narrow definition, which I mentioned already, namely, the religious employer could qualify for an exemption so long as it hired only members of that religion and served only its own members and existed almost solely to promote religious doctrine. Anything else was deemed by the government as a secular enterprise. If a religious organization hired people of other faiths, if it sought to serve people of all faiths and none, and if engaged in education, social services, and charity – then, according to the HHS rule, it was not religious enough to be exempt from having to provide surgical procedures & pharmaceuticals judged to be immoral. And this followed upon the heels of the Hosanna-Tabor case in which the Department of Justice argued that a church had no more rights in hiring its ministers than a labor union or a social club – a view that the Supreme Court unanimously rejected.
The point is that the Administration is drawing lines where we, the sponsors of religious works don’t draw lines ourselves. The government’s attempt to tell the Church which of our institutions seem religious to the state is profoundly offensive and entangles the government in the internal life of religious institutions. Unless we stop it now, this attempt to narrow the role of religion in our culture will spread like a virus through our nation’s laws and policies. The future will look like this: either we stay in the sacristy or else violate our consciences … not a good menu from which to choose.
The Catholic Church, joined by ecumenical and interfaith partners, is resisting through direct talks with the Administration, by seeking legislative remedies, by filing suit in federal court in various districts, by engaging in a year of faith focused on the new evangelization, by a prayer campaign, including an upcoming Marian prayer campaign in October, (mention here the Marian pilgrimage to the Shrine on Oct. 14 at 2:00 p.m.) by launching a texting campaign (text Freedom to 377-377), by scholarly conferences, by other forms of advocacy, and much more. None of the so called accommodations offered by the Administration help; none of them were devised with any direct input from the bishops. This struggle is portrayed in the media as a struggle about contraception. It is not. It is a struggle to preserve a fundamental 1st Amendment freedom, viz., the exercise of religion free of governmental interference. What underlines this fact is that most of our ecumenical partners don’t share our teaching on contraception – but they recognize that the Federal Government has decided to breach the wall of separation, to come into the Church’s territory to force the Church’s hand regarding its teaching on faith and morals, to compel its institutions to behave like secular institutions, not faith-based institutions. Once the State can force the church’s hands on these issues, the door is open for the State to force the Church’s hand on almost anything else.
In the State of Maryland the Archdiocese of Baltimore is the largest provider of social and charitable services to the poorest of the poor. We are the largest private educator and we struggle largely at our own expense to educate some of Maryland’s most disadvantaged children … often lifting them up out of poverty and transforming their lives. We want to continue doing this but in fidelity to the faith that inspired us to undertake these services in the first place. That is the kind of country the United States was meant to be. We also believe that private employers who want to follow their consciences should be allowed to do so – and until now they were – This includes an air conditioning company in Colorado run by a Catholic family that recently won injunctive relief from a Federal judge from having to conform to the HHS mandate.
It includes organizations that are not church owned but serve the church’s mission, such as Our Sunday Visitor and the Knights of Columbus. Churches are responsible employers; so are conscientious employers such as those I’ve mentioned. They provide good jobs and good benefits – they are not part of of the problem but rather they are part of the solution! No one is forced to work for an institution based on Christian principles and besides all this, the government has exempted many groups from providing these services by “grandfathering them” – but it has not yet budged with the regard to the objections of the Catholic Church, other churches, and private employers with conscientious objections to the HHS rule.
The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, drafted by Thomas Jefferson and enacted in 1786, proclaims it tyrannical for the government to force an individual to contribute money “to the propagation of opinions in which he disbelieves” – but that is the net effect of the HHS mandate on private employers, on church-related employers, and on churches themselves. It is up to us to make sure that such tyranny does not become the law of the land.
At the end of the day, we will be judged by our fidelity to our responsibilities and how we sustain that fidelity. Our responsibilities call us to rally for religious freedom in the context of the national common good and as a beacon of hope for people suffering religious persecution in various parts of the world. We are called to engage our fellow citizens and government leaders robustly but do so in hope, respect, and love. This is the pattern given us by the saints. This is our path too, as we sustain our national promise of freedom and equality for succeeding generations.
Thank you for your attention, your support, and your prayers.God bless our Church, our State, and our country!