Maryland’s bishops are sounding an alarm against growing restrictions in religious liberty on federal, state and local levels.
In a statement released Nov. 9 called “The Most Sacred of All Property: Religious Liberty and the People of Maryland,” the bishops state that religious liberty, “a right rooted in our human dignity and protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is being silently and subtly eroded.” In recent years, “there has been a subtle promotion of the idea that religious liberty should be restricted to Sunday morning worship.”
Wilmington’s Bishop Malooly, Washington Archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl and Baltimore’s Apostolic Administrator Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien signed the statement. Bishop Malooly and Cardinal Wuerl are considered Maryland bishops because their dioceses include part of the state.
Among the examples of increased religious liberty violations in the United States, the bishops list:
• The view that the church’s presence in the “public square” of political discussion is an imposition because of a view that “our identification as persons of faith disqualifies us from participation in the public debate.”
• The most basic of all rights, the right to life is “often subjugate to the whims of convenience. Not only has the right to life become conditional, so too has the right to demonstrate respect for life in one’s profession and activities.”
• While Maryland’s 40 pregnancy resource centers “freely serve about 30,000 pregnant women a year,” the centers have been “singled out for regulation three times in the last year” because “they do not provide or refer for abortion.”
• The conscience rights of health-care workers are being violated. One example is a nurse in New York City who was force to participate in a abortion under the threat of the loss of her job and nurse’s license or a pharmacist who had to file a lawsuit for his right not to sell the “morning-after pill,” because of his religious objections.
• Catholic hospitals are under attack for their faith-based practices. “The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the federal government to investigate Catholic hospitals for declining to provide abortion and emergency contraception” because the ACLU alleges “the hospitals are violating federal law by adhering to their religious beliefs.”
• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is mandating that “all private health insurance plans cover surgical sterilization procedures and birth control, including IUD, morning-after pill and abortion inducing drugs” without any opt-out for Catholic and other religious institutions “to not offer health insurance with these mandates.”
• The bishops also note that the Maryland General Assembly narrowly defeated a bill that would redefine marriage to include same-sex couples and is expected to take up the issue again in 2012.
The state’s bishops recall that: “religious liberty in this country began with the founding of Maryland. We must honor our state’s unique role in the preservation and promotion of this fundamental principle of government.”
In noting that religious freedom is integral to a just society, the bishops recall that the nation’s civil rights movement “was a religious movement. Its leader was a Baptist minister and it expressed an explicitly religious call for the equal treatment of African Americans.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, the bishops’ statement notes, explained the role of churches in society: “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. … It must be the guide and critic of the state, but never its tool.”
The bishops of Maryland’s ask Catholics to pray for public officials whose duties affect religious liberty, to educate themselves about the challenges religious freedom rights are facing, and to participate in politics by voting in elections, “an action we should always undertake with prayer and prudence.”
The bishops recommend their Maryland Catholic Advocacy Network, run by the Maryalnd Catholic Conference, for updates on public policy issues. Registration for the network is at mdcathcon.org.
In closing, the bishops, statement notes “Society as a whole benefits when all citizens in our pluralistic democracy – including religious citizens and institutions – remain free to participate in public life and to do so in accordance with their sincerely held beliefs.”
The Maryland bishops’ statement comes only two weeks after Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., testified before a U.S. House subcommittee that “the bishops of the United States have watched with increasing alarm as this great national legacy of religious liberty, so profoundly in harmony with our own teachings, has been subject to ever more frequent assault and ever more rapid erosion.”
Bishop Lori chairs the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, formed last September to “protect religious liberty as fundamental, no matter the moral or political threats of the moment,” he said.