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Posted in Archbishop Chaput's column, Weekly column from Archbishop Chaput, on May 24th, 2013

Religious freedom and the need to wake up

By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

En espanol

“IRS officials have, of course, confessed that they inappropriately targeted conservative groups — especially those with ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ in their names — for extra scrutiny when they sought non-profit status. Allegations of abuse or harassment have since broadened to include groups conducting grassroots projects to ‘make America a better place to live,’ to promote classes about the U.S. Constitution or to raise support for Israel.

“However, it now appears the IRS also challenged some individuals and religious groups that, while defending key elements of their faith traditions, have criticized projects dear to the current White House, such as health-care reform, abortion rights and same-sex marriage.”

Terry Mattingly, director, Washington Journalism Center; weekly column, May 22

Let’s begin this week with a simple statement of fact.  America’s Catholic bishops started pressing for adequate health-care coverage for all of our nation’s people decades before the current administration took office.  In the Christian tradition, basic medical care is a matter of social justice and human dignity.  Even now, even with the financial and structural flaws that critics believe undermine the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the bishops continue to share the goal of real health-care reform and affordable medical care for all Americans.

But health care has now morphed into a religious liberty issue provoked entirely – and needlessly — by the current White House.  Despite a few small concessions under pressure, the administration refuses to withdraw or reasonably modify a Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate that violates the moral and religious convictions of many individuals, private employers and religiously affiliated and inspired organizations.

Coupled with the White House’s refusal to uphold the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and its astonishing disregard for the unique nature of religious freedom displayed by its arguments in a 9-0 defeat in the 2012 Hosanna-Tabor Supreme Court decision, the HHS mandate can only be understood as a form of coercion.  Access to inexpensive contraception is a problem nowhere in the United States.  The mandate is thus an ideological statement; the imposition of a preferential option for infertility.  And if millions of Americans disagree with it on principle – too bad.

The fraud at the heart of our nation’s “reproductive rights” vocabulary runs very deep and very high.  In his April 26 remarks to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the president never once used the word “abortion,” despite the ongoing Kermit Gosnell trial in Philadelphia and despite Planned Parenthood’s massive role in the abortion industry.

Likewise, as Anthony Esolen recently noted so well, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s public statement on the conviction of abortionist Gosnell was a masterpiece of corrupt and misleading language.  Gosnell was found guilty of murdering three infants, but no such mention was made anywhere in the NARAL Pro-Choice America statement.

None of this is finally surprising. Christians concerned for the rights of unborn children, as well as for their mothers, have dealt with bias in the media and dishonesty from the nation’s abortion syndicate for 40 years.  But there’s a special lesson in our current situation.  Anyone who thinks that our country’s neuralgic sexuality issues can somehow be worked out respectfully in the public square in the years ahead, without a parallel and vigorous defense of religious freedom, had better think again.

As Mollie Hemingway, Stephen Krason and Wayne Laugesen have all pointed out, the current IRS scandal – involving IRS targeting of “conservative” organizations – also has a religious dimension.  Selective IRS pressure on religious individuals and organizations has drawn very little media attention.  Nor should we expect any, any time soon, for reasons Hemingway outlines for the Intercollegiate Review. But the latest IRS ugliness is a hint of the treatment disfavored religious groups may face in the future, if we sleep through the national discussion of religious liberty now.

The day when Americans could take the Founders’ understanding of religious freedom as a given is over.  We need to wake up.


American Catholics are called to observe a second annual “Fortnight for Freedom” this June 21-July 4.  For more information, see the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

To send a message to your elected officials in support of religious liberty, click here for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference’s Action Center.

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25 Responses

  1. Good article. I only have to point out one “flaw”. Health care is accessible now, and it always has been. That is what the Bishops have consistently asked for. If anything good comes out of the HHS mandate, I would say that the increasing presence of “clinics” on every block, now being built is what I consider, affordable health care. We have one in our community. Even before the HHS mandate, you could walk into that facility up here in our little mountain community, and for $25.00 you could see a PA or RN. That is less than most copays. Also, Mission Hospital, still part of St. Josephs Hospital system in the south county area of Southern California, has never and will never turn anyone away. But, the government knows best, right?

    By: Suzanne Bloomer on May 24, 2013 at 10:41 am

    • Suzanne I am glad you have accessible health care in your area. That is not so in so much of the country. A lot of people have to wait until they are critically ill to get care and then it is too late.

      By: Josephine Evatt on June 9, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    • Where? If it is not available, then how can they get it when they are critically ill and “it is too late”? Why do you make such broad and general statements as cannot really be tested true or false?

      By: T Bushee on June 17, 2013 at 9:11 pm

  2. Yes, this is a good article. I agree with Suzanne, healthcare is available to everyone. Even those who cannot afford it are offered many ways to access and pay for services.

    Part of the problem with today’s healthcare system is the over-consumption of services due to the insurance system that most Americans purchase their healthcare through. Rising healthcare costs have outstripped every other economic sector except higher education.

    There is nothing in the Affordable Care Act that will insure everyone in an affordable way. In fact, the Heritage Foundation estimates that healthcare will rise between 100%-400% in the next few years. Nothing affordable here. Many of those increases are already hitting the marketplace.

    My father recently needed a procedure that would have been routinely approved just a few years ago. At age 73, and now on Medicare, he had to consult with eight doctors and go through a battery of questions to determine if he was a good candidate for the procedure. I was amazing to see what he had to go through. It is clear to me that accessibility to needed healthcare is being rationed for Medicare recipients.

    The ACA is bad for health, family, faith, and country.

    By: Teresa Trujillo on May 24, 2013 at 11:51 am

    • Good point regarding your father’s experience, Teresa! Of course we all want good, affordable health coverage for everyone, but at what expense?! Are we supposed to defer to government appointed panels or officials to decide who is worthy of what care?!?! Any reasonable person knows that is not a good idea and does not lend itself to the principle of freedom.

      We need a more realistic approach than what was forced onto us in the form of the ACA.

      By: Joe on May 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    • Good observations Teresa. As soon as government got involved in insurance, introducing HMOs, etc. (Ted Kennedy), the cost of doing business skyrocketed for healthcare services. Health insurance should be catostrophic care only. Prices would come way down and care way up.

      By: Elizabeth on June 17, 2013 at 2:31 pm

  3. Excellent commentary from a very wise man, Bishop Chaput. Citizens must speak up so the government knows we value our religious liberty! Dietrich Bonhoffer told us – “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world it leaves to its children.”

    By: Joe gable on May 24, 2013 at 2:06 pm

  4. Great article Your Excellency! We as Catholics need to educate ourselves regarding the issues in our country at all levels, federal, state, city and local, in order to assert ourselves in the public square confidently and effectively. The longer we remain passive or apathetic to the issues, the more our freedoms are taken from us without a fight.

    However, we also need a strong presence to support us and to help blaze the path of Christ coming from the pulpit on a daily basis. This presence must not be afraid to directly address the tough issues we’re dealing with, even in the face of mounting political, financial and social pressure.

    By: Joe on May 24, 2013 at 3:11 pm

  5. It seems to me that the Affordable Care Act is not about healthcare for the American people but for control over our lives. The bishops should try to rethink what type of care would be best for the poor.

    By: Ellen Cerritelli on May 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm

  6. Sadly it seems the call to wake up will at best result in a few flickering eyelids as most of those to whom the call is directed will merely roll over and sleep on their other side. Yes, religions and their concepts of morality is and has been under attack. Nothing new there yet why have the majority of Catholics who voted in the last two presidential elections voted for the current administration knowing full well the President’s past and present votes on life. What did he promise that induced so many to vote? What has he delivered? We’re past the point of a wake up call. That trumpet has sounded long ago and like those who heard Kitty Genovese calling out in the darkness we turned away thinking someone else would answer.

    By: Charlie Hauser on May 24, 2013 at 4:03 pm

  7. It is clear that the Bishops have been very naive when dealing with this administration. You can’t negotiate with evil and expect to win. Hate to say “I told you so” but I told you so. USCCB has no credibility. They are fighting the wrong battle. The devil is in the details. “Got to pass the bill in order to see what’s in it” says it all. They are making the same mistake on the Immigration Bill. Obama definitely knows the mind of the “CINO’s” who are the majority. This is going to get much worse. It’s all about control of people’s lives…not about healthcare or immigration for that matter. You would think after the 20th Century the Church would recognize statism, socialism, for what it is. It has never worked. But yet today we hear nary a word about “subsidiarity”, “personal responsibility”, “sin”. etc.. The silence drowns out those shouting “social justice”. It’s a warm fuzzy term…Especially when someone else has to pay for it. As constituted all of the laws to be implemented are traps for enslaving this country. Unfortunately, the road to hell is still paved with good intentions. Prayer and charity are surely required but shepherds candidly speaking Truth to Power are what is in very short supply. Arbshp Chaput is/has been a consistently strong leader. However, he is not perfect. As constituted Obamacare will bankrupt the country. That is anything but Catholic, Christian, charitable or any other adjective one can use. Socialism takes everyone to the same level…Poor!

    By: Jacobum on May 24, 2013 at 4:59 pm

  8. I think you’re being a little alarmist. Contraception access isn’t all that big a threat to religious liberty.

    By: Irene on May 24, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    • Irene, your choice of words is interesting as you state contraception access isn’t all that big a threat to our liberty. Are there any little threats to liberty when a choice is being forced upon us in spite of our beliefs? Which belief would need to supressed before it becomes a big threat to our liberty? I suggest you look up the words of Rev Niemoeller when he stated “First they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist…..” Read the entire text and contemplate what Reverend Niemoeller was trying to say.

      By: Charlie Hauser on May 25, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    • Irene, it isn’t access to contraception that is at issue. The issue is one of being coerced into paying for contraception — and abortion services — against one’s own religious beliefs. Contraception is already cheap and widely available, and anyone who wishes to use it is free to do so. Cost is hardly a deterrent. But to force others to pay for it, especially when contraception now often involves the use of abortifacient drugs, which is abhorrent to so many, is plainly unacceptable.

      By: John on June 17, 2013 at 1:33 pm

  9. Exemption from taxes is NOT a privilege. The mere assertion of religious affiliation is not a ticket to tax exemption. The IRS has a duty to vet all applicants for tax-exempt status.

    By: J. P. on May 27, 2013 at 11:25 am

    • Agreed. What the IRS does not have a right to do is to specifically target or single out those with a political stance or position that it finds disagreeable. Today it is conservative and pro-life groups; tomorrow it may be those at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is wrong either way.

      By: John on June 17, 2013 at 1:37 pm

  10. Tax exemptions are granted because non-profits, broadly speaking, provide positive services to the public that the government can’t or won’t deliver. The government often gets more from the bargain than the non-profits do; e.g., legitimate religious charities and ministries administer government monies with a high degree of care, and often supplement program shortfalls with their own resources. So tax exemptions are hardly a “favor” from Caesar. They’re a valuable part of American public life and another expression of the American preference for limited government.

    Obviously crooks and scammers on both the left and the right can work the system, but overall, tax exemptions for non-profit organizations serve a good purpose. The uproar over the latest IRS outrage is completely appropriate. The IRS engaged in a systematic abuse of its power for belligerent ideological reasons, and the targets were conservative and religious groups perceived as unfriendly to the Obama agenda.

    By: S.M.M. on May 27, 2013 at 9:08 pm

  11. Archbishop Chaput’s article is, indeed, a good read. Every point he makes is clear and well-taken. The individuals who replied before I made my comments certainly add to the need for us to be better informed of what is taking place in Washington.

    By: Rudy Gonzales on May 28, 2013 at 4:44 pm

  12. The article is “so-so” at best! If the Archbishop of Philadelphia thinks that the American people, especially the Catholic American population, is going to rally behind him and the other American bishops he needs to be elevated to Archbishop of LA LA LAND! Both the Secular Society and Catholic Americans are on the side on complacency with their daily lives and the Catholic Church and her bishops no longer hold moral authority on any issue. Yes, we all cry foul and they ought to do something about this in regard to the IRS, Taxes and the State of the American Economy but as to get up to do or say anything to change all this is simple a Dream that can and never will become true or a reality. The Government will NEVER dismantle or take the vicious bite out of its attack dog (aka IRS)… they are one of the few government entities that can skirt around “due process” legally and make one submit to the Will of the Government – after all the government has guns and will use them on its citizens, if need be. No, the Church can go back to its faith and say a few Hail Mary’s, Our Father’s and Glory Be’s and hope and pray it is enough… but as for a real wake up or call to action… NO WAY are the American people or Catholic faith willing, able or have the resolve… We are now in the Age of Secular Humanism and the Federal Government is now ‘god’ and the people accept this whole heartily!

    By: Defiant One on May 30, 2013 at 7:18 am

  13. The ones who need to wake up are Charles Chaput, Rick Santorum, and anyone else from the ignorant wing of the Catholic Church. You need to take a lesson from Pope Francis and the Jesuits on what it really means to be a Catholic and a real Christian. They get it; unfortunately our lame diocesan clergy do not, and it shows with the empty pews and red ink of this most out of touch archdiocese.

    By: JC on May 31, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    • JC – I don’t really understand your post. Pope Francis has spoken out many times on the current threat to religious freedom and the importance of all of us fighting for it. My only guess is that you are a follower of Liberation Theology so often supported by the Jesuits. However, Pope Francis has already said serving the poor is important, but that the Liberation Theology viewpoint of it being more important than opposing abortion, contraception, gay marriage, etc. is not theologically correct (as have previous Popes). Archbishop Chaput and Pope Francis are on the same page. The Jesuits (i.e. Georgetown Univ and many others) are the ones that are off base both theologically and morally.

      By: Chuck on June 17, 2013 at 3:45 pm

  14. Your Excellency,

    That the bishops rely so much on the power of government redistribution of private property that it gives you little moral authority to split the hair about the contraceptive mandate. Further, their are many other ways to extend access to healthcare than your hyper-reliance on government fiat.

    But, to truly reclaim the power of the bully pulpit once so effectively used by your predecessors and others in the major metropolitan sees, you might want to consider going cold turkey, ie. completely severing all dependencies to the government for your operations. Yes, it will be disruptive, but you’ve heard the story of the frog and the water, have you not? Put a frog into a pot of boiling water, and it will jump out and live; but if you put that same frog in a pot of tepid water, and increase the temperature to the boiling point, the frog will not move and die.

    Jump out, Your Excellency, and call upon your brother bishops to do the same. Otherwise, you will be ever more beholden to the government, and what the government giveth, the government can – and does – taketh away.

    By: StephenUSA on June 9, 2013 at 7:55 am

  15. I am reminded of Revelation 18:4:
    “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying: Go out from her, my people; that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues.”
    Let us save (with the grace of God) that which can be saved so that a remnant remain.

    By: Liam Ronan on June 9, 2013 at 8:52 pm

  16. It occurs to me that in my previous post I might have left some wondering how exactly we are to dissociate ourselves from the abominable sins now officially sanctioned and committed by the United States Government.
    My recommendation, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, is that we consecrate ourselves and all those for whom we have a duty to protect to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Most Holy Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart of Mary.
    Pray the rosary every day and display the crucifix wherever you may be. Trust in God. He will not fail you or those for whom you pray.

    By: Liam Ronan on June 9, 2013 at 9:11 pm

  17. Isn’t the Mandate in itself a form of targeting Catholics, Christians, and all people who cannot tolerate paying for abortion inducing drugs? Isn’t it like targeting us in that the Government thinks our backs are against the wall and they are saying to us, “We don’t care about your right to religious freedom. So what?” The Government is targeting us OPENLY in the Mandate for what we believe. Versus the SECRET targeting that has been exposed by the IRS. Somehow I think the word has to get out more that if the Mandate is passed suppression of Religious Freedom will be unprecedented in this country. If we don’t stop the Mandate where will the Government intrusion to our rights to public and private worship end?

    By: Mary Ann Keindl on June 18, 2013 at 3:53 am

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