"This is a huge mistake. You don't compromise with a mistake. And, you don't compromise your principles." These are the words of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is talking about the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring all employers to include and pay for contraceptives and sterilization as part of their health care plans for their employees. And, he is absolutely right.
The HHS mandate is a direct affront to Catholics in particular - and all Christians, in general - if they value their right to freedom of religion in this country. This is the single biggest attempt on the part of the United States government to control religion that this country has ever seen. And, it flies in the face of the First Amendment.
Not everyone understands the Catholic Church's opposition to artificial birth control, but this issue is so much deeper than that. Suffice it to say that the Catholic Church values all human life as sacred, from the moment of conception until natural death. Anything that prevents or destroys the sanctity of life is wrong. Bearing this in mind, the HHS mandate is a clear case of the government of our country infringing on the religious beliefs of people of faith. Requiring Catholic employers to - against their consciences - pay for contraceptives is like telling pacifist employers they must pay for their employees' bullets.
On June 23, in Catholic churches the world over, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist. John's purpose on earth was to proclaim Christ. He was "the voice crying in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths!' (Matthew 3:3)."
I take inspiration from John because that day's Scripture reading from Jeremiah really jumped out at me. It said, "To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord (Jeremiah 1:7-8)." I am a cradle Catholic. I absolutely love my faith. I, like John, am ready to speak.
I am opposed to the HHS Mandate. I am even more opposed to the government trying to take from us one of the principles on which this great nation was founded - freedom of religion. Our founding fathers created this country specifically for the right to worship God as they pleased. It is what wars have been fought to defend. How can any of us stand by and watch an administration trying to strip us of this fundamental right? And, if this mandate succeeds, what freedom will the government take from us next? Freedom of speech? Of assembly? Of the right to bear arms?
Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, whose own organization would be subject to the mandate, said this uprising is not a crusade, but a battle for America's own integrity. "It's fine to say we stand with our religious leaders, but let's make it clear that they, and we, are standing with our Constitution and our great nation, rooted in God's gift of freedom," says Pavone.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sponsored a Fortnight for Freedom, a special time of intense prayer, education, and public witness which was held June 21 to July 4. The purpose of this specific, prolonged time of prayer was to unite Catholics - and all who value their right to religious liberty - in an effort to reverse the HHS mandate. The bishops timed the fortnight to encompass several feast days of "great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power," including English martyrs Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, Saint John the Baptist, Saints Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.
I am deeply saddened by the secularization of our country in general; but, for perhaps the first time in history, our government is acting as if our human rights don't come from hand of God, but instead are "benefits" that the government can bestow, define, and take away.
The Obama administration is currently facing at least seven lawsuits over the HHS mandate from dozens of Catholic and Christian institutions - including Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio) - and an eighth suit backed by the attorneys general of seven U.S. states, including Ohio.
The HHS mandate threatens schools, hospitals and charities that serve people of all faiths. The Catholic Church is the founder of thousands of schools and universities. It is the largest charitable organization of relief services on earth. It created both the university and hospital systems as we know them today. All of these things will be affected if the HHS mandate goes into effect on August 1.
The U.S. bishops are united in saying that they will not comply with this law. It is what we call an "unjust law," and we would "rather obey God than man." And we are prepared to accept the consequences.
By defying the HHS mandate, these institutions will face fines so heavy they will be forced out of business - the "business" of caring for the sick and dying, the "business" of education. Approximately one in six sick people in the U.S. are treated at a Catholic hospital. Thousands attend Catholic universities - like the University of Dayton, Xavier University, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio Dominican University and John Carroll University. What will happen when these institutions are shut down? What will happen when Catholic schools are forced to violate their faith or are forced out of the field of higher education?
This is completely unnecessary. No one would be denied health care if the HHS removed this mandate from the law. Catho-lics are merely asking for the freedom that is guaranteed in the First Amendment: the freedom to live out our beliefs in public.
The Fortnight for Freedom culminated on Independence Day; however, this time of prayer need not - and should not - end yet. We can continue to pray, and pray hard. Somewhere along the line too many people have forgotten that prayer actually works. I am not one of them. I've had too many prayers directly answered and I've witnessed too many miracles to doubt.
As Cardinal Dolan said recently, "We didn't pick this fight. It was imposed on us; but, we're not going to run from it." I urge you to take the time to understand this issue. If you would like to know more, please visit these websites: fortnight4freedom.org, first things.com, lifesite news.com and usccb.org.
Like St. Francis of Assisi, I want to be a channel of God's peace. I don't like confrontation any more than anyone else. I don't have a rally to lead - yet; so I am writing this plea. I am praying that the HHS mandate will be thrown out. I want the freedom to practice my faith and love my God that is my right. And, I want you to help me pray for the defense of religious freedom - mine and yours - in this great country of ours.