Ladies and gentlemen…..I would like to thank you all for coming. The issue that we are all interested in this evening is one of great import and grave concern. It is about not only the future of our own local religious institutions but also, in a larger sense, about the future of religious freedom in our country.
I am heartened this evening to see so many individuals who are not members of St. Mary’s Church……who have come either to learn about the issue, or to show support for the strong stand taken on behalf of religious freedom by the Catholic Church. We thank you for coming and we look forward to standing with you.
You know, as look at the people representing a broad cross-section of churches here in the Mid-Ohio Valley, I am reminded of the atmosphere that greeted John and Samuel Adams when they arrived for the beginning of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
John Adams described the scene in a letter to his wife Abigail.
When the Congress first met, Mr. Cushing made a Motion, that it should be opened with prayer. It was opposed by Mr. Jay of New York and Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, because we were so divided in religious Sentiments, some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Anabaptists, some Presbyterians and some Congregationalists, so that we could not join in the same Act of Worship. Mr. Samuel. Adams arose and said he was no Bigot, and could hear a prayer from a Gentleman of Piety and Virtue, who was at the same Time a Friend to his Country.
I sense that same spirit here this evening.
This issue is much broader than simply the beliefs or practices of one denomination. It is something that should unite us not only as Christians, but as people of all faiths, who worship the one true God.
From the infancy of our country, Americans have understood that our rights – such as our fundamental right to religious liberty – are not granted by government but by God.
For generations, Americans have guarded jealously those liberties outlined in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed in our Constitution.
Our parents and grandparents, understanding that “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” faithfully defended our right to worship as our ancestors did.
The question is, “What will the current generation do to safeguard their rights for posterity?”
If we are to protect those rights we must speak Truth in the face of political correctness and political pressure. In so doing, we are chastened by the words of Pope John Paul II in his letter entitled The Gospel of Life.
We need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception. In this regard the reproach of the Prophet is extremely straightforward: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Is 5:20).
In recent days the White House and the media have made a great deal about the President reaching out to Catholics and seeking to find an accommodation on this issue.
Unfortunately, the recent so-called “accommodation” is nothing more than a distinction without a difference. The White House has made the calculation that by shifting the burden from religious institutions to insurance companies, it will be easier for religious folks to violate their consciences.
The fact of the matter is that the federal government, acting through the insurance companies, will still be taking money from religiously observant people and using it to provide services the people find morally objectionable.
The accommodation has received broad criticism across the board.
Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League commenting on the supposed accommodation says, “At the end of the day, religious employers are still required to provide insurance plans that offer free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacients in violation of their moral tenets.”
Richard Doerflinger of the US Council of Catholic Bishops said the White House accommodation is no solution. “Sure, you don’t have to include the coverage, you just have to send all your lay employees and women religious to the local Planned Parenthood clinic.”
I don’t know about you, but I am not willing to bet my eternal salvation on the fact that God will be fooled by this thin and intentionally-deceptive reasoning.
The truth is, there has been no genuine accommodation on the part of the federal government. The fact remains……this is merely the latest and most egregious example of a White House dedicated to bringing religious persons to heel in this country.
Despite the so-called accommodation this remains an issue of religious liberty versus government tyranny.
This ruling was not about women’s health or the specific services that were mentioned.
It was about government intrusion in the private lives of citizens.
It was an attack on religious freedom.
It was an attack on freedom of conscience.
It was an attack on the 1st Amendment and the Constitution.
It was an attack on people of faith all over this country and we must stand as one to oppose it.
And I have little doubt that we will.
As the result of this controversy, I have thought a lot about the temptations our Lord had to face is the desert.
I have thought a lot about the nature of evil.
In our society, we have a predisposition to associate evil with violence. When asked about the nature of evil we think of events like 9-11, the Columbine massacre or the shootings at Virginia Tech. Surely, these were examples of evil.
However, we often forget about an even more insidious evil at work in our society. A well-known historian, Hannah Arendt, wrote about this type of evil in a study of Adolf Eichmann.
Arendt defined what she called the “banality of evil,” the idea that most of the great crimes in history have come NOT as the result of fanaticism or as the work of sociopaths but rather as the work of ordinary people who blindly accepted the premises of the state. One need only look at the horrors of the French or Soviet Revolutions for such an example.
The January 20th ruling by the US Department of Health & Human Services encouraged people of faith to participate in just such an evil.
As part of such a ruling the people of faith are pressed by the authority of the state to put aside their deeply-held religious beliefs in order to remain citizens in good standing.
For Catholics, the decision whether to accept the White House accommodation has very dire implications.
If you profess to be Catholic and you adhere to the teachings of the Church, you understand……what the federal government has proposed puts in peril your very soul.
The teachings of the Church are clear on issues of life.
My underlying fear is this……because of the so-called “accommodation,” or because of a future move to rescind the ruling entirely, the people will forget this audacious effort by the federal government to limit religious liberty.
I don’t know about you but if someone tried to do harm to something I love – my family, my children, my wife, my church - and then backed down solely because the victim put up a fight, I would not forget.
I don’t know what the future of this issue will be.......I do know, this is a much larger issue even than what the media has portrayed.
We are at a pivotal point in American history……a point where we must ask ourselves whether we are willing to put on the Full Armor of God and defend our individual liberties. As Ronald Reagan used to say, “Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction.”
As you return to your homes this evening and kneel in prayer about this issue, I would ask you to keep in mind the story of one of our forgotten founders…..one of the 56 who pledged his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor when he signed the Declaration of Independence……a man by the name of Abraham Clark.
During the war, Clark gave two sons to the officer corps of the Revolutionary Army. They were both captured and sent to the infamous British prison hulk the Jersey.
You see, during the war the British did not build prisons for those they captured, they sent them to prison ships off the East Coast.
The Jersey was the worst of these ships. It was known as the “hell ship” because of the conditions experienced by the men imprisoned there. There were poor rations and unclean water. The lack of medical care and filthy conditions led to rampant disease.
Because their father had signed the Declaration, the younger Clarks were treated with a special brutality. Just two weeks before the end of the war, the British got a message to Abraham Clark and told him that if he would come out against the war….if he would come out against General Washington….if he would come out against the Revolution…..and in favor of King and country, they would release his sons.
Abraham Clark’s answer was “no” and his sons died as a result of the treatment they received on the Jersey.
The rights we enjoy as Americans…..given to us by God, not government …...have been secured by the sacrifice of our ancestors – men like Abraham Clark and his sons. They have come at a VERY dear price.
This is not an issue of abortion or contraception.
It is an issue of whether this generation we will safeguard those same rights for our children.
Christians, Jews, Muslims and even those who have no religion at all still come to our shores because they believe they will be allowed to pursue the dictates of their conscience unmolested by government.
Please pray that tradition continues.