USCCB statement “brings a new level of candor” to the way bishops speak about religious liberty

By Dave Andrusko

Archbishop-designate William Lori, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty

I learned just before posting National Right to Life News Today for Thursday that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)  had issued a very, very important statement. Having a little more time to digest what the document says, here are some additional points of interest to pro-lifers.

The twelve-page document, published in English and Spanish, was in no uncertain terms a call to action to defend religious liberty. Developed by the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” urged laity to work to protect the First Freedom of the Bill of Rights.

“To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other,” the bishops said. “This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.”

“We need … to speak frankly with each other when our freedoms are threatened. Now is such a time,” the document says. “As Catholic bishops and American citizens, we address an urgent summons to our fellow Catholics and fellow Americans to be on guard, for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad.”

The document  outlines what the bishops see as a series of concrete threats to religious liberty. They begin with the example single issue pro-lifers are most familiar with–the mandate of President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services–which, according to the document,

“has received wide attention and has been met with our vigorous and united opposition. In an unprecedented way, the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are ‘religious enough’ to merit protection of their religious liberty. These features of the “preventive services” mandate amount to an unjust law. As Archbishop-designate William Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, testified to Congress: ‘This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.’”

No doubt anticipating the charge by some that the document is “political,” the bishops make clear, “This ought not to be a partisan issue. …The Constitution is not for Democrats or Republicans or Independents. It is for all of us, and a great nonpartisan effort should be led by our elected representatives to ensure that it remains so.”

“This is bigger in that it’s not a one-time thing, not aiming for a specific Sunday” Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the communications director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNN. “It’s going to be extensive and it’s going to be occurring over a few years.” It would include (as described by CNN’s Dan Gilgoff) “everything from encouraging priests to address religious liberty concerns in church to sending inserts for church bulletins.”

For the immediate future, the bishops called for “A Fortnight for Freedom,” the two-week period from June 21 to July 4, to focus “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” for religious liberty.

“The statement brings a new level of candor to the way bishops speak about this issue,” said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty. “On matters of substance, and most especially on matters like religious freedom, we can’t afford to be timid.”

The document can be read in full.

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