Religious Liberty Is Rightfully Ours

It is not a coincidence that the first of the ten Bill of Rights was religious liberty.

by the Most Reverend Thomas Rodi, What a difference a year makes. At last year’s Chrism Mass, we were discussing the change from responding “And also with you” to “And with your spirit.” Such a discussion appears somewhat paltry when compared to the challenge to religious liberty now facing our Church and our country.

Bishop Thomas J. Rodi

Bishop Thomas John Rodi

Religious liberty has been consistently respected in our country’s history. From the beginning of our nation, we have been a people of various faiths, religions, and beliefs. Mindful of this, we Americans have said to one another that I will not force you to act against what you believe and you will not force me to act against what I believe.

When the Constitution was written, ten amendments were quickly added to the document. These first ten amendments are the Bill of Rights. The Constitution established our government and the manner in which it was to operate. The Bill of Rights established the fundamental rights which this new government must respect. It is not a coincidence that the first of the ten rights enshrined in the Constitution was religious liberty. The writers of the Bill of Rights knew that any government which would seek to coerce its citizens to violate their religious consciences would not long maintain its other liberties. They knew this because of the experience in the European countries from which Americans had come. In several European countries a person could be arrested and even put to death for their religious beliefs. It is important to remember that many of the first European colonists left their homelands seeking religious liberty. The writers of the Bill of Rights knew that history well and wanted the United States to be a place where no one’s religious liberty would be violated.

This has been a core value in our nation’s history. For example, even at the most traumatic moments of our history when we have been at total war and have drafted every young man to fight, if a young man’s religion did not allow military service because of religious beliefs, that young man would be exempt from the military service that was required of every other young man. It is a testimony to our American respect for religious liberty that, when everyone’s son, brother, or father had to fight, we still exempted those who would not fight because of their religious beliefs.

But today is a troubling moment in our nation’s history. The recent mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services is a direct challenge to religious liberty. The mandate forces almost every employer to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs for employees. There is no exception provided in this new regulation for employers who are morally opposed to these drugs and medical procedures whether they be individuals or Church ministries. There is only the narrow exception for a church ministry which is primarily for the preaching of the faith and which primarily hires and serves only the members of its church.

 The administration’s new mandate seeks to separate the members of churches from their church ministries. Listen attentively when someone is speaking about this issue. Be very careful when a person says that we have “freedom of worship” in our country. These are often “code words” used to assault religious liberty. The Constitution grants far more than the freedom to worship in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. The Constitution grants a far broader right, namely, the right to religious liberty. The difference is this: Americans not only have the right to gather to worship, we have the right to leave our places of worship and to publically live our faith.

That is what makes this new regulation so insidious. It tells us as believers that our ministries of schools, colleges, hospitals, nursing homes, fraternal organizations, media ministries, social service centers and other charities are separate from the Churches and their members.

We as followers of Jesus Christ believe that we must serve others. It is the Lord Himself who told us that the love of God and the love of neighbor are inseparable and integral to being His followers. We are compelled by the Love of Christ, not only to worship God, but then to live our faith by offering our Church ministries. The ministries of the Church cannot be separated from worship but flow from our desire, founded upon our faith, to fulfill the two great commandments of Christ. This is the crux of this issue.

The President’s Administration seeks to coerce me to speak against what I believe. This mandate forces me to say to our Church employees that I am offering drugs and medical procedures which we believe to be morally objectionable, but that I still will offer them to you. And then this mandate forces me to act against my faith by paying for these very things which are morally objectionable. The only way in which this can be avoided would be to ignore our Christian duty to reach out to all of God’s children and close our Church ministries, our hospitals, college, schools, charities, etc, to anyone who is not Catholic, or to keep our ministries open and pay for drugs which are immoral and abort human life.

We did not ask for this controversy and this controversy was not necessary. The Administration has forced it upon us. But this is the situation which now confronts us. The history of our Church is replete with times when the clergy, religious, and laity had to confront threats to their faith. In speaking to all of us, and especially to you, my brother priests who recommit ourselves today to priestly ministry, I am certain that we will be, with God’s help, as courageous as believers in other generations.

For the sake of our nation, for the sake of our Church, and for the sake of our immortal souls, we cannot fail to demand the religious liberty which is rightfully ours. The Declaration of Independence proclaimed that we are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. The right to religious liberty was not given to us by any government and no government has the right to deprive us of it.

May God be our wisdom and our strength.


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3 comments to Religious Liberty Is Rightfully Ours

  • karen lyons

    I love being a Roman Catholic, most of all because Our Lady Appeared to me, and showed me how much Love comes through Her from God. Just like my Mothers Love but a trillion times stronger. Our Lady touched me on my right shoulder maybe it were my Soul; and said “Do not be afrain” all fear left me. I have being told I died and came back to life from a car accident, well this is what I experienced, through an out of body experience. I entered the Light and understood everything all at once. I heart the Angels singing “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty” repeatdly and I wanted to sing with them, not sure why I could not do this. I wanted to do it with all my heart or Soul maybe. We get to do this at Mass, not sure why I could not sing it up their. Our Lady’s Love stopped me from falling into suffering not sure if it were Hell or purgatory, but it was below the light, I felt like I were walking on fresh air, and were not good enough to be in this pure and perfect place, but Our Lady would not let me go to the suffering below me. Our Lady’s Love is so sweet and strong, it is still with me today and every day. In Spirit Our Lady was with me their, and she came back in person to me again when I got to the gates of Heaven. I did not go in their in thanks to Our Lady again. I wanted to and said to Our Lady, “if you help me; everything will be alright” and then were back in my body once again; but was given the opportunity in thanks to Our Lady. Amen

  • lisag

    Bishop Rodi is so right in the difference between freedom of religion and freedom of worship. The trouble is that so many Catholics and other Christians have silenced themselves into a freedom of worship attitude. We don’t want to embarrass or make others feel bad in voicing our faith. So we are silent at work or when we one are with our families or friends. We accept the music, TV, and movies that others hand out to us. Our free time, clothes, homes, and donations say nothing about who we are as Christians. We need to love the cross and love the freedom to express what being a Christian means in our lives.

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