April 12, 2012

Religious Freedom and Prayer

Beginning to pray is closely tied with religious freedom.  In fact, prayer is the font of all freedom, but religious freedom in particular.  Once God has touched one's heart, it is not enough to privately worship Him.   One is compelled by love to live this new freedom in public; to share the joy of faith not only within the family but also in the marketplace - indeed from the rooftops.  It is this faith filled witness to freedom that opens up new possibilities in a society, new and previously unimaginable opportunities to deepen the dignity of the human person.

At the same time, there have always been those who have opposed freedom and who fear humanity's religious aspirations.  For these political and cultural forces, religion is something especially to be controlled by manipulation and oppression.  They will not only use widespread cultural and commercial power to stifle the freedom that God gives, but they will also abuse even legal means to promote their bigotry.  Yet they can never attain their end without robbing a society of its hope, of that which is most genuinely noble about our lives in this brief time we have together in this passing world.  That is why when governments fail to respect the religious freedom of their citizens, such efforts must be resisted.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops released an important statement today asking from us a fortnight of prayer starting on June 21.  They are concerned about a number of issues where religious liberty has been co-opted in the United States, including the Health and Human Services Mandate for contraception, sterilization and abortion inducing drugs.   This is an example of another grossly unjust law which is aimed at not only coercing the religious freedom of Catholic Hospitals, Schools and other social services, but also the freedom of anyone who out of love for God is morally opposed to providing what this law requires.

Against this and other unjust laws of its kind, the U.S. Bishops do not call for the right to merely conscientiously object to government mandated religious discrimination.  There is no accommodation to be made with bigoted tyranny. Because such laws attack the fundamental civil liberty on which our free society is based, they must not be complied with at all.  Because more and more people of faith are facing persecution and having their rights to religious freedom denied them, this is an important battle to win not only for ourselves but for all those whose freedoms are being denied.  The Bishops call upon all people of good will to support them in this fight, every way they can.

The most powerful weapon in this fight is prayer.  This is why I am asking you to pray for religious freedom, not only in the United States, but around the world.  This is not the first time people of faith have had to work together and pray against unjust laws.  History is full of failed attempts, even recent ones, to oppress the free exercise of our faith in the public square.  The U.S. Bishops, in their statement, refer to the experience of Martin Luther King, Jr.:


In his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. boldly said, "The goal of America is freedom." As a Christian pastor, he argued that to call America to the full measure of that freedom was the specific contribution Christians are obliged to make. He rooted his legal and constitutional arguments about justice in the long Christian tradition:
I would agree with Saint Augustine that "An unjust law is no law at all." Now what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.11
It is a sobering thing to contemplate our government enacting an unjust law. An unjust law cannot be obeyed. In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them. No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it. But if it should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith.