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Even if Obamacare is overturned, the Fortnight for Freedom must continue

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 22, 2012

Sometime next week, roughly halfway through the “Fortnight for Freedom,” the US Supreme Court will deliver its ruling on the Obama health-care reform. If the Court rules—as it should—that the legislation is unconstitutional, the threat of the contraceptive mandate will be lifted. Then could we American Catholics stop worrying about religious liberty?

No. No. No. No. No.

The American bishops have rightly used the contraceptive mandate to draw a line in the sand: a line that cannot be crossed without drastic consequences. But even if that line is erased, the threats to religious freedom will remain.

Last October, Bishop (now Archbishop) William Lori—the chairman of the US bishops’ newly formed committee on religious liberty— told Congress that the episcopal conference had “watched with increasing alarm” as religious freedom in American became “subject to ever more frequent assault and ever more rapid erosion.” Bishop Lori was speaking not just about the contraceptive mandate (which, at that point, might still have been rescinded), but about an overall trend toward government encroachment on religious institutions. He mentioned, for example:

  • the Obama administration’s decision to cut off funding for a program administered by the US bishops’ conference, assisting the victims of sexual trafficking, because the bishops’ program did not include provisions for abortion and contraception;
  • the administration’s refusal to defend federal legislation affirming male-female marriage;
  • the foreign-aid programs that require distribution of condoms;
  • the challenge to the “ministerial exception” that protects religious bodies from intrusive government regulation of personnel decisions;
  • the various implications of new policies that redefine marriage, and put pressure on ministers to accept the new definition.

Other examples could be added, but the trend is clear enough. American political leaders—not only at the federal level, and not only during the Obama administration—have been more and more likely to accept a radically secularized vision of religion’s role in public life. That is, they have tended to exclude religious beliefs and moral principles from public discussion, to the detriment of our nation’s welfare.

This secularizing impulse is hostile to religion, to be sure. But it is also hostile to American political traditions, which have always, since the founding of the country, made ample room for religious belief. Our country has never had an established religion, but it was founded and grew on the basis of a general consensus that religions deserves public respect. Now that consensus is disappearing. Pope Benedict XVI put his finger on the problem in January, in an address to a group of American bishops making their ad limina visits:

In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God. Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.

The Declaration of Independence—which, I remind you, we celebrate at the conclusion of this Fortnight for Freedom—roots all of our rights in “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” If our political system no longer allows references to those laws, where is the guarantee that our rights will remain protected?

The Fortnight for Freedom is not merely a reaction against a single piece of repugnant legislation. It is an ambitious, noble effort to reclaim something that is vital both to Catholicism and to the American tradition. Across the US, other religious bodies are applauding the bishops' initiative and looking for ways to join the cause. In Europe, Catholics reeling under the blows of aggressive secularism are looking across the Atlantic for signs of hope. We are poised for a historic battle. At last, after years of acquiescence to secularism, American Catholics are seizing the offensive.

So if the Supreme Court overturns the "Obamacare" legislation, we should pause just for a moment to celebrate, and to thank God. And then we should plunge back into the Fortnight for Freedom campaign, with even greater energy and determination. We can’t afford to stop now!

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