Religious freedom on the Fourth of July Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Jul. 04, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

This column is the bishop's communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

As I write this column, we are coming quickly upon the Fourth of July, when we as a nation celebrate our independence and freedom. It is this freedom which has provided tremendous room for our flourishing as a human race and as a nation, but it is a delicate freedom, built upon the presupposition that we as a nation will choose to exercise our freedom in a way that moves forward toward what is best.

In recent days and over recent years, I believe, we have seen increased evidence that the assumption of our striving to choose the good can no longer be taken for granted.

Threats to our freedom of religion

Perhaps the clearest example of this evidence, are the threats that are being made to our freedom of religion. Since our founding as a nation (and a large portion of the reason for our nation’s founding) we have been guaranteed the opportunity to seek the good of eternal life, and to live out our lives in accord with what we believe Almighty God to have asked of us.

We as Christians believe that the Lord Jesus, desiring to bring all people with Him to Heaven, said to us, "go and preach to all nations." He didn't say, "keep it here in the upper room," he said to go to all. He taught us to encounter all people with the Good News that we have received.

Flowing from this commission that Jesus gave to us, we try to preach the Truth always and everywhere -- not only in our churches on Sunday, and not only in our homes, but in our places of work and of recreation, in the marketplace, in the businesses that Christians own, and in the public square.

Flowing from this commission that Jesus gave us, we reach out to our sisters and brothers, whether they believe as we do or not, through our Catholic schools, our hospitals, and various charitable arms.

If we are not reaching out in these means whenever possible, we risk failing in the mission Jesus gave us; and if we are exercising these good works without having Jesus and our faith right at the center, we risk failing just the same.

We are called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ and the Truths that are safeguarded by His Church, which is how we live out our faith.

Faith under threat

It is precisely this living out of our faith, a liberty and freedom that has always been protected -- and even enshrined by our country -- that is under threat. We are being told that if a Catholic institution does what it is called to do, namely, that if it ministers to more than just Catholics, that it cannot operate in accord with the teachings of the Church. We are being told that a Catholic business operator cannot operate in accord with his Catholic conscience and must pay for procedures and personal choices that he believes to be immoral.

The only way we will be allowed to follow our consciences and our faith by the current administration is if we serve only Catholics. Otherwise a Catholic individual or a Catholic institution has to suppress his beliefs in accord with the judgment of the state.

The only way a work or institution can be considered "Catholic" according to the government, is if it does not do what its Catholic faith tells it to do. The only way a Catholic business owner can be "Catholic" is if his faith is kept hidden.

Now, no government has the right to enter into religious territory and determine what that religion is all about, what specific service that religion is to give. There is no authority in any government or state, that allows them to redefine Catholic ministry, but they seem very comfortable defining -- redefining -- lots of things. And that’s the problem.

Catholics need to 'wake up'

It is a serious problem and it is a very real threat, but our brothers and sisters need to be told to wake up! As Archbishop Chaput recently said, "Safeguarding religious freedom, conscience rights, is far more the task of the lay faithful than it is the bishops." If you put all the bishops together, you've got about 300 votes through the country. That's not enough to do very much.

If the lay faithful get out and express themselves to protect religious freedom -- and we’re not talking here about a political party, we're not talking about a candidate, we’re talking about a value, a conviction, a belief, that every person called to be faithful has a right from God, not from the state, to be faithful according to the dictates of his or her religion -- if the faithful get out to express that, then we have a chance of being heard.

Not only is our Catholic community not rushing to take up this shield and buckler, as it were, and to rise in defense of the faith, but many are indifferent.

"Well, what difference does it make," they ask. Their practice of religion has fallen to a very low place among their priorities, and their belief in what Jesus has called us to is very low, and certainly not internalized by them.

The voice of God, speaking to them through the voice of Jesus Christ and His Church, with regard to who we are and who we are called to be, is relegated to a secondary, or tertiary (or worse) concern. You want to talk about the New Evangelization? Look at the work we have to do!

'Politics has nothing to do with it'

I’ve offered plenty of teaching on the nature of the human person, and I'll not cease to do so -- especially in light of recent developments, which clearly run contrary to that human nature -- but people have gotten so distant from the Truths of our faith, and people are so terribly catechized, that when I (or another priest, or any of the faithful) talk about the nature of the human person, the response I get (usually from those who call themselves Catholics, and who tell me how expert they are in their Catholic faith) is not that I am a "silly Papist, follower of an ancient religion that desperately needs to be updated." I'm not accused of that. (I would love to be accused of that!) Rather, I’m accused of being a Republican.

Politics has nothing to do with it! But if people can spread the word -- and they do and they have -- that what I'm about is being a Republican, how much easier it is to dismiss me! Especially in the overly politicized culture in which we live! How easy it is to dismiss me! But we will not be dismissed, and we will not go away.

Preaching the truth with love

More of us -- all of us -- have to preach the truth, with love. This is the New Evangelization -- we have to get out there and in a loving way tell our sisters and brothers who are Catholics to wake up!

Wake up to what and who we are called to be! And wake up to the reality that we are being told not to be what and who we are called to be! Because if we're going to allow the government to tell us how to carry out our ministry, and to whom we can reach out in the name of Jesus Christ, what’s left for us?

So it's important we stand up for religious freedom now and that we stand for it in such a way that even those who are not Catholic or Christian even, can realize that this is more than just about particular Church teachings (though we don’t deny them)!

But we want to try to raise up a mighty army of folks who realize, whether they're Catholic or non-believers, that religious freedom and conscience rights are very much at stake, and what’s biting the Catholic Church now in the United States is going to bite other groups in the future. There’s no question about it.

So, let's keep our concern to promote religious freedom clear in our mind. We don’t want any government or any state to interfere in how we practice our religion in choosing who it is that we can minister to, in choosing to whom we can minister. That’s a terrible encroachment.

And, with peace and love in our hearts, we simply cannot allow it. But we need many more to join us. And remember the protection of religious freedom is the obligation primarily of the lay faithful, not the bishops. We're doing what we can. You have a lot more votes, you have access to people to whom we will never have access. Please use that. And by the grace of God we will succeed.