Last night in Indianapolis, Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput gave a speech to a group of Catholic journalists on the eve of the “Fortnight for Freedom,” a national campaign of teaching, witness, and prayer in favor of religious freedom and against the HHS mandate requiring religious institutions to purchase insurance policies that violate the doctrines they uphold.
A well-funded public relations campaign against the bishops deriding them as partisan (only when they oppose the mandate; not, for instance, when they support Obama's immigration order) has been adopted by much of the mainstream media.
The latest meme is that the bishops' campaign is funded by the high rollers at the Knights of Columbus. If it's so well funded, I want to know why they couldn't afford a savvier campaign them than "Fortnight of Freedom." It's not quite Madison Avenue, is it.
But this speech by Chaput is a fantastic brief overview of the major issues and why they're important. I encourage everyone to read it whether or not they're already in support of religious freedom campaigns such as this one or not. Religious liberty, it's worth remembering, protects everyone -- no matter what your precise views on the divine are. It's rather continuously under attack in big ways and small throughout the world and the United States hasn't been an exception.
What's great about the U.S. is that we've always had a broad array of religious groups willing to step in and help each other when their religious liberty is under attack. We're seeing that now with this mandate because Lutherans, Jews, Muslims, Baptists and others see that the HHS mandate redefines what a religious entity is and that has drastic implications for all of us.
Chaput's speech tells us that 1) religious freedom is a cornerstone of the American experience:
Gertrude Himmelfarb, the historian, put it this way: The founders knew that in a republic, “virtue is intimately related to religion. However skeptical or deistic they may have been in their own beliefs, however determined they were to avoid anything like an established Church, they had no doubt that religion is an essential part of the social order because it is a vital part of the moral order.”
2) Freedom of religion is more than freedom of worship.
The right to worship is a necessary but not sufficient part of religious liberty. Christian faith requires community. It begins in worship, but it also demands preaching, teaching, and service. It’s always personal but never private.
3) Threats against religious freedom in our country are not imaginary. They’re happening right now. They’re immediate, serious, and real.
When religious belief gets redefined downward to a kind of private bias, then the religious identity of institutional ministries has no public value–other than the utility of getting credulous people to do good things. So exempting Catholic adoption agencies, for example, from placing kids with gay couples becomes a concession to private prejudice. And concessions to private prejudice feed bigotry and hurt the public. Or so the reasoning goes. This is how moral teaching and religious belief end up getting hounded as hate speech.
4) Unless we work hard to keep our religious liberty, we’ll lose it.
It’s already happening in other developed countries like Britain and Canada. The U.S. Constitution is a great document–historically unique for its fusion of high ideals with the realism of very practical checks and balances. But in the end, it’s just an elegant piece of paper. In practice, nothing guarantees our freedoms except our willingness to fight for them. That means fighting politically and through the courts, without tiring and without apologies. We need to realize that America’s founding documents assume an implicitly religious anthropology–an idea of human nature, nature’s God, and natural rights–that many of our leaders no longer really share. We ignore that unhappy fact at our own expense.
Chaput's final point is that "religious liberty is an empty shell if the spiritual core of a people is weak. Or to put it more bluntly, if people don’t believe in God, religious liberty isn’t a value." He has some harsh words for Catholic bishops and other leadership and members of the church. He reminds them what they're called to do. He ends:
Scripture says, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:33). We work best for religious freedom by first opening our hearts to God’s will instead of our own; and loving our country and our Church; and renewing the witness of the Church with the zeal and purity and obedience of our own lives. That freedom, that joy, no one can ever take from us.
From the cross at San Damiano, Jesus said to Francis: Repair my house, which is falling into ruin. Those same words fill this room tonight. How we respond is up to us.
It's a great speech to kick off this, uh, fortnight for liberty. Even if you're a hardcore Lutheran such as myself.
We certainly didn't want this fight or even expect our federal government to go after us. But they did. We have no choice about how to respond, just as many of our ancestors have had to do at the local, state and federal level in years past.
So: what will you be doing during the next two weeks to help Catholics and others who are fighting to practice their faith in accordance with the teachings of their church?