Let Freedom Ring

ObamaCare’s threat to religious liberty is reaching a crescendo, with 43 Catholic organizations filing suit in federal court to challenge the HHS mandate of sterilization, contraception, and abortion-inducing drugs as a violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, explained the seriousness and significance of the threat in a keynote address in Washington, D.C., on May 24.

“[W]e can be confident that our Founding Fathers understood the foundational value of religious liberty and freedom of conscience,” he told the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s National Religious Freedom Gala Reception and Award Dinner. But “that value is under attack, and it will require our active vigilance to protect it — not just for ourselves, but for future generations.”

He described the deliberate moves by the Obama administration to ignore the Church’s protests against the mandate that all employers, with only narrow exceptions, must include in their employee health plans access to services they consider morally wrong.

“Once the administration began hinting that the ‘preventive services’ mandate would include things that Church institutions could not morally facilitate or fund, the conference staff began filing comments and appearing at hearings, as early as fall 2010,” Bishop Lori said.  “Once the regulations finally came out in August 2011, we filed more comments. When the decision was announced that those August regulations would not change, we protested again.

“Despite these numerous opportunities to avoid the train wreck, on Feb. 10, HHS finalized the August regulations ‘without change,’ closing the door on any chance of removing the offending items from the mandate or expanding the exemption.”

The bishops felt they had no recourse but to challenge the mandate in the courts.  Archbishop Lori explained that the dispute is not about contraceptives:

“I emphasize the fact of government coercion because it is one of the key differences between a mere dispute over reproductive health policy and a dispute over religious freedom. Those who would try to conceal that religious-freedom aspect have done all in their power to conceal the key fact that the Church is being forced by the government to violate its own beliefs. In a bizarre turn, those same advocates accuse the Church of somehow forcing its beliefs on others through the law, when the exact opposite is true.”

The bishops are calling for a celebration of a “Fortnight for Freedom” this summer, from June 21 to July 4  — “a special period of prayer in the two weeks leading up to the Fourth of July.”

In addition, all Catholic churches are being encouraged to ring their bells on Thursday, June 21, and Wednesday, July 4, at noon Eastern (9am Pacific) to “let freedom ring.”

And the bishops hope “that other houses of worship with bells will join us in that special sign of solidarity and support for religious liberty.”

Let the bells ring.