Sermon on Religious Freedom
When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.
-Jonah 3: 10
Today’s first reading from the Book of Jonah concerning the conversion of Nineveh is especially appropriate on this Sunday, January 22, which is the 39th anniversary of an event that radically transformed this country, the decision of the Supreme Court that for the first time legalized the killing of the unborn in this country as a whole. Like Nineveh, which was judged by God to be a wicked city, our society has taken the path of evil in the sight of God, and we too are in desperate need of conversion. As with Jonah, the prophetic voice of the church has been enlisted by God to preach an unpopular message, that the killing must stop and the country must undergo of a deep conversion of heart and soul. But the response of American society has not yet been the positive response that Jonah received from that ancient pagan nation, who undertook penance for their sins and actually turned from their evil ways. But hopefully we are making some progress, as the polls tell us that more and more Americans are turning against abortion to one degree or another.
Unfortunately, this is not true for the powers that be, and the Catholic Church is facing a most determined adversary in the US government officials who do the work of the abortion/birth control industry, with the latest assault coming from the Department of Health and Human Services. Friday HHS has formally issued a new regulation that directly attacks the religious liberty of religious institutions and individuals. This new threat was addressed at the US Bishops’ annual meeting last November, and they issued a strong condemnation of the then proposed regulations, now confirmed regulations, connected with what has been called Obama-care, regulations that would force religious institutions to provide health insurance that gives free coverage for benefits opposed to Catholic teaching on the natural law. HHS has now notified the Church, on this weekend of her protest against abortion, surely no accident in that intimidating timing, that many if not most of her religious institutions must fund insurance plans for their employees that cover sterilization procedures, birth control pills, and morning-after pills that can act as an abortifacient. Planned Parenthood and the whole pro-abortion family planning world is in jubilation. Their dream to force the Catholic Church to fund birth control is now in place, and there is no reason by the logic of this rule why they will not take the next step and force her to fund abortions.
While the new regulations do have a religious exemption clause, it is written so deliberately narrow that it would not cover most Catholic institutions, like Catholic hospitals, universities, high schools and grade schools, Catholic Charities, etc. The logic of the HHS regulation is that because these kinds of institutions serve a broader purpose than simply religious instruction or worship, and because they serve a broader public than Catholics alone, they will not qualify for the exemption. Indeed, The pro-abortion / pro birth control lobbies, like NOW, the National Organization for Women, and Planned Parenthood and others, as well as the drug companies that make billions on birth control, are already pressuring the government to allow no exceptions whatsoever.
The Catholic Church cannot yield to this violation of her own institutional religious liberty and to the violation of the consciences of her faithful, those millions of Catholics who still remain faithful to her dogmatic and moral teachings. Thus, the most serious confrontation between church and state in the history of this country is about to unfold. Archbishop Dolan, President of the Bishops Conference, yesterday, in obvious dismay at this in-your-face announcement just before the March For Life on Monday, warned that “The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand.”
The bishops were generally in favor of a national health care bill until the bill was passed without a key amendment guaranteeing the religious liberty of the Church’s institutions. Since passage, which they opposed due to the lack of that freedom amendment, have been in favor simply of amending the bill as it stands to provide that exemption. Now the most pro-abortion administration in our history has responded with this in-your-face radical regulation that denies the broad exemption and would thus force the Church to provide coverage, as of this coming August, for these immoral procedures for most of her employees. And who can doubt that coverage of abortion procedures will not be far behind if the administration gets away with this attack on religious liberty?
We Catholics have been peaceful opponents of the laws that have enabled the destruction of 50 million human lives over these 39 years, according to the pro-abortion lobby’s own data. We have been peaceful opponents even when we have seen our taxes used by our government to promote abortion in our foreign aid programs, something that has grown under Mrs. Clinton as Secretary of State. Now another governmental department would take away our religious freedom and freedom of conscience to advance the most radical increase of government intrusion into the affairs of religious institutions ever.
Birth control pills and sterilizations, were never, until now, considered a matter of health care, anymore than purely cosmetic operations. Yet some insurance plans are already arbitrarily designating the former as such under the pressure from the government and organizations like Planned Parenthood. And now the present government, much to the delight of the most radical anti-population and pro-abortion groups, and to be sure the drug companies who make billions from the sale of these prescription pills, is flouting the constitutional guarantees of religious liberty by these new regulations forcing Catholic institutions to violate their moral principles, drop their insurance plans or go out of business.
Surely this will end up in the courts, and we have reason, I think, I hope that it will be overturned. But the struggle will not end there. This is a determined enemy, hostile to the Catholic Church’s moral teaching, and they will if possible change the Court itself to force this on the Church. That is when the confrontation would reach its utmost and you may well see bishops and priests and laity going to prison in a country that has prided itself on its religious tolerance and religious liberty. But these foes have no tolerance, especially for the Catholic Church and her moral teaching, and they will not readily end their assaults on her liberty, until they are forced to do so.
Thus, Catholics who value their religious liberty must get involved and pray and take action in our various ways and capacities to overturn this unprecedented anti-religious regulation, certainly an immediate and hopefully an achievable goal. Likewise, we must work even harder to convert our country to recognize the humanity of the unborn child before it’s too late, and the country becomes hopelessly divided as it was in the days of slavery. Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed, cried out Jonah to the ancient pagans of Nineveh. We hopefully have more time than that, but one thing is certain, if this country is not eventually turned around regarding the protection of innocent human life in the womb, it simply will not survive as we have known it. You cannot forever flout the God of Love and Life. For He is also the God of Justice.