Freedom to serve

Religious liberty is more than the freedom to worship, though worship is an essential expression in virtually every religious tradition.  Minimally, religious liberty certainly safeguards the freedom to worship.  But a robust religious liberty, as our Constitution enshrines it and as the Creator has inscribed it in our hearts through the natural law, is also the freedom to live out the implications of our religious faith in the public as well as the private dimensions of our lives.  As Christians we are called not only to love God, but also to love our neighbor.  Service to God requires service to our neighbor. 

For the third consecutive year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is sponsoring a Fortnight for Freedom calling Catholics as well as other people of faith and good will to reflect upon the importance of religious freedom in our society and in our world.  The Fortnight is an opportunity to pray, to study and to advocate for religious freedom, which is being threatened not only in faraway places, but also here in the United States.

The theme for this year’s Fortnight for Freedom, which runs from June 21 to July 4, is “Freedom to Serve.”  Our freedom to serve the poor and the vulnerable in accord with human dignity and the Church’s teaching is being challenged.  One of the most emblematic threats to religious liberty in the United States today is the controversial HHS mandate, which imposes hefty financial penalties on employers who refuse to include contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in the health insurance plans they provide to their employees under the Affordable Care Act.  The rules of the mandate provide no acceptable conscience clause to protect Catholics and others who find these procedures contrary to their religious faith and their understanding of human dignity rooted in faith.  We are being presented with an unacceptable dilemma: either consent to the provision of immoral services that undermine human dignity and violate our conscience, or face crippling fines that could force businesses as well as Catholic and other faith-based charitable services, schools and health care facilities to close their doors. 

Service to our neighbor, especially service to the poor, is a fundamental constituent of our Catholic faith.  It is not merely icing on the cake.  We are being denied the freedom to serve in a way that is consistent with our deeply held religious beliefs and convictions.  We serve the poor, we care for the sick, we give shelter to the homeless, we educate children, not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.  It is our Catholic faith that enables us to see Christ in every person and to recognize the dignity of every human being.  It is our Catholic faith that motivates us to serve; that demands that we serve.  This injustice cannot stand.   

In March of this year, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and other Catholic entities including Catholic-owned businesses which are part of the Catholic Benefits Association (based here in Oklahoma and representing more than 450 Catholic employers around the country) filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking injunctive relief from the unjust burdens of the HHS mandate, which are contrary to our Catholic faith.  As you will read in this issue of the Sooner Catholic, we have recently been granted this relief.  This is a significant victory for religious liberty.  But this is not the end of the struggle either with regard to the mandate or the many other threats to religious liberty looming on the horizon. 

I encourage you to visit the Fortnight for Freedom website at www.Fortnight4Freedom.org  or the USCCB website for more information and resources for prayer, study and activities.