by Deacon Michael Bickerstaff | September 16, 2012 12:01 am
Our focus at the Integrated Catholic Life™ is to help fellow Catholics integrate their Catholic Faith throughout their daily lives. In other words, living the Catholic Faith means more than attending Mass on Sundays.
To be Catholic requires that we live out our lives guided by the teachings of Jesus Christ… in the home, in the workplace, in the public square and in the marketplace; and not just while we are within the four walls of the church on Sunday mornings.
On the surface, this seems like it should be easy; but we know from experience that it is not. The culture within which we live constantly tells us otherwise. We live in a time that is hostile to our faith. I say this from experience in living in the Western Culture… I cannot speak experientially about the rest of the world. But in the West, I can think of many challenges we face on a daily basis.
These conditions and experiences have become the cultural norms of our time that intend to direct our thoughts, attitudes and behaviors. Absent from the cultural norms are the higher goods and excellence that God calls us to; integrity, honor, fidelity, charity, compassion, solidarity, dependability, holiness, and the love of God and neighbor.
So, when I ask, “What are we to do about the continuing threat to religious liberty,” I am speaking, in one sense, of a threat that comes from the wider culture within which we exist. But there is a growing and alarming front in these culture wars that has surfaced in these past few generations in the Western world – the intrusion of Western governments into the exercise of our religion; that is, the living out of our faith in our daily lives.
This has forcefully come to the forefront in the last 13 months in the United States with the HHS Mandate.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”, also referred to by the media as “Obamacare”) was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. As with all laws, Federal Regulations are developed to define how to comply with the law.
On August 1, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) issued a “final interim rule” (the “HHS Mandate”) that would require almost all private health care plans to provide their members, at no out of pocket cost to the insured, access to female sterilization procedures and contraceptive prescription drugs, including abortion-inducing drugs.
A very narrow “religious exemption” was offered to religious employers who hire members of their own faith, serve only members of their own faith, and whose mission is to inculcate that faith. This exemption would not cover religious schools, hospitals, charities and other such groups. It would not cover health insurance providers or any other private employer… or even private individuals in the market for health insurance. In other words, the exemption would likely protect only small churches with minimal staffs and no outreach to members of other faiths.
This regulation has been published in the Federal Register as originally written and became effective on August 1, 2012. Non-exempt, religiously-affiliated organizations are required to comply with the regulation by August 1, 2013; one year later than the rest of the population… leaving one additional year to figure out the impossible – how to commit grave sin without violating conscience.
The Catholic Bishops in the United States, together with leaders and adherents of other faiths and religions, strenuously oppose these rules that attempt to force us to violate our consciences and are seeking legal remedy to this unconstitutional intrusion by the Federal Government into our free exercise of religion.
As stated above, this regulation is now in effect for the general population, and if our efforts are unsuccessful, the regulation will go into effect for most of the remaining population in less than one year.
Last May, 12 lawsuits were filed on behalf of 43 Catholic entities seeking to overturn the HHS Mandate. Since then, I believe that two additional groups joined the lawsuits. The response of the Federal Government has been to ask the courts to dismiss these lawsuits. Some criticism has been directed towards this effort by well-meaning Catholics who agree with the Bishops. They wonder why more entities are not party to the lawsuits. Know that the legal strategy that has led to the decision to limit the parties has been planned and thought out. It is simply impractical for every affected diocese and organization to be a party to these lawsuits and their absence does not reflect lack of concrete support for its intentions and goals.
That’s where we are presently.
What is particularly troubling in the United States is the present view by our elected and appointed political leaders (and many voters as well) that fails to grasp the meaning of the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
When the United States was founded, the founders recognized certain natural rights that were possessed by individuals – rights that derive not from the new government, but from nature (or God). The first Ten Amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, recognized these personal freedoms and limited the power of government to intrude in these areas.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” (emphasis added)
We do not possess simply a right to worship within the walls of a church, but also to practice what our religion teaches… in the home and in the public square. The government’s attempt, to force employers and individuals to violate their consciences, is an infringement of their First Amendment rights. This attempt appears to be a part of a growing pattern by the government to redefine religious liberty to be what happens within the walls of the church building – thus the use of the erroneous phrase, “Freedom of Worship”, that we increasingly hear from the lips and pens of our government officials.
“He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels’” (Mark 8:34-38).
Now is not the time to waiver in our resolve. Now is not the time to give in and give up. No matter the personal cost to ourselves, we must obey God and not man. In today’s Gospel, Jesus could not be clearer about what must inform the choices we take. The political campaign season is now in full swing. We must let those who would be our leaders know where we stand. Will we surrender to Christ or to Caesar?
Into the deep…
Deacon Mike Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life™. A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.
He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplains to the St. Peter Chanel Business Association and co-founder of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.
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