Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Membership of the US Bishops Committee on Religious Liberty is Announced

By Deacon Keith Fournier
November 14th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

We ask our readers to pray for the Bishops of the United States as they gather in Baltimore. Our own Associate Editor Randy Sly will be reporting from the event. We especially ask you to pray for Bishop Lori. The importance of his work in chairing this Committee on Religious Liberty is clear. His growing prominence may lend some credence to the growing rumor that he is being considered for the position of the Archbishop of Baltimore in the future. Given the proximity of the Archdiocese to the Nation's Capitol, it would make his vital work easier.

NEW YORK,NY (Catholic Online) - In a September letter announcing the establishment of a Committee established to defend religious liberty in the United States, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, the President of the USCCB, appointed Bishop William Lori as its chair. He also indicated that other members would be added. In a strongly worded letter, Archbishop Dolan pointed to numerous threats to religious liberty in the United States. He gave the following as examples which have occurred in just the last few months:

*  The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued regulations that would mandate the coverage of contraception (including abortifacients) and sterilization in all private health insurance plans. There is an exception for certain religious employers, but, to borrow from Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, President of The Catholic Health Association, it would cover only the ¨parish housekeeper". And the exception does nothing to protect insurers or individuals with religious or moral objections to the mandate.

*  HHS is also requiring that MRS (Migration and Refugee Service) provide the 'full range of reproductive services' to trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors in its cooperative agreements and government contracts,and we all know what that means. This is exactly the position urged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the ongoing lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of MRS's contracts as, ironically, a violation of religious liberty.

*  Catholic Relief Services is also concerned that USAID, under the Department of State, is increasingly requiring comprehensive HIV prevention activities (for example, condom distribution), as well as full integration of reproductive health activities including provision of artificial contraception, within a range of international relief and development programs. Under the direction of the board, CRS is following up on these concerns.

*  The federal Department of Justice has ratcheted up its attack on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as an act of bigotry. As you know, in March, the Department stopped defending DOMA against constitutional challenges, and the Conference spoke out against that decision. But in July, the Department started filing briefs actively attacking DOMA's constitutionality, claiming that supporters of the law could only have been motivated by bias and prejudice. If the label of ¨bigot" sticks to us - especially in court - because of our teaching on marriage, we will have church-state conflicts for years to come as a result.

* The Justice Department has also disappointed us in the critically important "ministerial exception" case now pending before the Supreme Court. The Department could have taken the position that the "ministerial exception", though generally providing a strong protection of the right of religious groups to choose their ministers without government interference, just didn't apply in the case before the court. Instead, the Department attacked the very existence of the exception as well.

* The New York legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a law redefining marriage, with only a very narrow religious exemption. Already, county clerks face legal action for refusing to participate in same-sex unions, and gay rights advocates are publicly emphasizing how little religious freedom protection people and groups will enjoy under the new law.

Finally, Archbishop Dolan made public a strongly worded letter which he sent to President Obama concerning what he called "the continuing threats to religious liberty in the context of the effort to redefine legal marriage promoted by his Administration."  I wrote about that letter here

There is no doubt; our Bishops are properly concerned about the growing threats to religious liberty in the United States and they are taking serious and substantial action. As a constitutional lawyer I am particularly encouraged by the clear leadership of Archbsihop Dolan, as demonstrated by the issues he has zeroed in on and the clear way in which he has explained the threats to religious liberty they present.
 
Bishop William E. Lori will address the entire body of United States Catholic Bishops when they gather in Baltimore, Maryland next week, November 14 - 16, 2011. He will speak of the make up and mission of Committee and its future plans. Bishop Lori gave compelling testimony in defense of Religious Freedom, Life, Marriage and the Family before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011. I wrote about his testimony here.

The members of the Committee on Religious Liberty led by Bishop Lori have now been announced. They are: Bishop John O. Barres of Allentown, Pennsylvania; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap. of Philadelphia; Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas; Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta; Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis; Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix; Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois, Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Alabama; Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington.

In addition to its General Counsel and lobbying staff, the committee will rely on the assistance of the following Consultants: Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus; Kevin Baine, attorney, Williams & Connolly; Father Raymond J. de Souza, a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario (Canada) and a columnist; Richard Garnett, associate dean and professor of law and political science, University of Notre Dame Law School; John Garvey, President, The Catholic University of America; Mary Ann Glendon, professor, Harvard Law School; Philip Lacovara, attorney; Judge Michael McConnell, professor, Stanford University Law School; L. Martin Nussbaum, attorney, Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons; and Mary Ellen Russell, executive director, Maryland Catholic Conference.

The importance of the work of defending religious liberty in the United States is obvious to anyone who sees the storm clouds of militant secularism gathering. The Catholic Church must not be impeded from her work, worship and mission. She plays an essential role as well in helping to build a culture of life and civilization of love which furthers and fosters the common good.

Yet, we live in the midst of a culture which has lost its moral compass and is reeling under the effects of what Pope Benedict XVI referred to as a "Dictatorship of Relativism". Hostility toward the Church is growing. Too often it is found right within the halls of government. 

The Catholic Catechism affirms, "The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order." (CCC #1738) The recognition of religious freedom as a fundamental human right is also at the heart of the American experiment.

We ask our readers to pray for the Bishops of the United States as they gather in Baltimore. Our own Associate Editor Randy Sly will be reporting from the event. We especially ask you to pray for Bishop Lori. The importance of his work in chairing this Committee on Religious Liberty is clear. His growing prominence may lend some credence to the growing rumor that he is being considered for the position of the Archbishop of Baltimore in the future. Given the proximity of the Archdiocese to the Nation's Capitol, it would make his vital work easier.

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)