United for religious freedom: Let’s join our bishops in standing up and praying for religious liberty Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Mar. 22, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Editor's View by Mary C. Uhler

The Catholic bishops of the United States have called on all Catholics to unite in opposition to various threats to religious freedom in our country.

At a meeting of the bishops’ leaders in Washington, D.C., the bishops issued a statement on March 14 called “United for Religious Freedom.” The bishops said they are concerned not only with protecting the Church’s own institutions, but also with the care of individuals and the common good.

Of course, one of the bishops’ immediate concerns is the mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would force almost all private health plans to provide free coverage of sterilization and contraception — including abortifacient drugs — except for a very narrow exemption for “religious employers.”

In their statement, the bishops thanked those who have stood with them in their opposition to what they called “this unjust and illegal mandate.” Besides Catholics, they point out that women and men of all religions and even those with no religion have joined them in opposing the mandate.

What this debate is not about

The bishops also clarified that this debate is not about access to contraception or even banning contraception. “The U.S. Supreme Court took that issue off the table two generations ago,” noted the bishops.

“Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the Church — consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions — to act against Church teachings.”

It is also not a matter of opposition to universal health care, they said, which has been a concern of the bishops’ conference since 1919, virtually since its founding.

This is not a fight the bishops wanted or asked for, they insist, but “one forced upon us by government on its own timing.” And they stress that this is not a Republican or Democratic issue, nor a conservative or liberal issue.

Rather, it is an American issue, said the bishops.

Attempt by government to define religion

It is an attempt by the government to define the meaning of religion. “The introduction of this unprecedented defining of faith communities and their ministries has precipitated this struggle for religious freedom,”said the bishops.

They assert forcefully, “Government has no place defining religion and religious ministry. HHS thus creates and enforces a new distinction — alien both to our Catholic tradition and to federal law — between our houses of worship and our great ministries of service to our neighbors, namely, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the students in our schools and universities, and others in need, of any faith community or none.”

If this definition stands, the bishops are concerned it will spread throughout federal law, weakening its healthy tradition of respect for religious freedom and diversity. They also charge that the mandate will force religious employers to violate their teachings and individuals to violate their consciences.

What’s next?

The bishops will continue their “vigorous efforts” at education and public advocacy on the principles of religious liberty. They will continue to dialogue with the government and pursue legislation to restore the same level of religious freedom they enjoyed until the mandate.

They call upon Catholics and all people of faith to join them in prayer and penance for our country’s leaders and for protection of religious liberty and conscience rights. For more information go to

Rallies on March 23

Another way to show support for religious freedom is to participate in rallies being held in more than 100 cities nationwide on Friday, March 23, at 12 noon. In Wisconsin, Vigil for Life and Pro-Life Wisconsin are sponsoring rallies in Madison and Milwaukee. In Madison, the rally will begin at 12 noon on the sidewalk at the U.S. District Courthouse (120 N. Henry St.) and in Milwaukee at the Downtown Federal Building (310 West Wisconsin Ave.). Bishop Robert C. Morlino will attend the rally in Madison.

For more on the rallies and religious freedom issues, go to