Op-ed: Faith and Works

Faith and Works: Religious Liberty Essential for Both
by Joshua Mercer

The Bishops are using this year’s Fortnight for Freedom to remind Catholics that we cannot be just a service agency nor can we be a church focused only on worship and teaching.

Our Catholic faith calls us to more. We must be united in faith and work: Our outreach and service to others must be motivated by our faith and must be conducted in keeping with our faith.

As Scripture reminds us:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2:14-17)

We are called, therefore, to integrate our Catholic faith into all the good that we do.

As Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore explained in his homily on June 21, the first Sunday of the Fortnight: “The Church does not have two wings: a ‘faith-and-worship’ division on the one hand, and a ‘service’ division on the other. Quite the contrary. We cannot claim to love God without loving our neighbor. What we believe and how we worship gives rise to a life of service.”

And yet, our federal government seems to be trying to drive a wedge between the faith aspects of a church and the services aspects of a church, as though the two can be separated.

Under the traditional definition of religious freedom, a church and its affiliated institutions all have religious-liberty protections. A church is free to act according to its teachings and its moral conscience, not only in how it worships but also in how it manages its ministries and institutions.

The Obama administration, however, has already argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for a new definition of religious freedom. It seeks to define religious freedom much more narrowly as a mere “freedom of worship” which, while still protecting the four walls of a church insofar as it conducts religious ceremonies, does not extend that religious freedom to its hospitals, schools, universities, adoption agencies, soup kitchens, and other such institutions.

The Supreme Court pushed back 9-0 against this extremely narrow definition in the Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC decision, but that didn’t stop the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from imposing its mandate, issued under the Affordable Care Act, requiring employers to offer health insurance plans covering sterilizations and contraceptive drugs, including some that can cause abortions. The mandate provided for an exemption for religious employers, but one so narrowly defined that “[o]nly those organizations that hire their own, serve their own, and exist primarily to inculcate their own doctrine qualify for this exemption,” as explained on the U.S. bishops’ website. Such a definition might exempt a local Catholic parish that employs an all-Catholic staff, but it would not exempt a faith-based Catholic ministry that hires and serves both Catholics and non-Catholics.

Particularly for the institutions of the Catholic Church, which teaches that artificial contraceptive, elective sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs are morally objectionable, it goes against our moral conscience to be forced to provide or facilitate such “services” through employee health-benefits programs. Many other faith groups that do not share the Catholic view on contraception nevertheless support the fight against the HHS mandate, either because they oppose the coverage for abortion-causing drugs or because they simply recognize the HHS mandate as a serious encroachment upon religious freedom.

Despite repeated public calls from the Catholic bishops and a record deluge of public comments to HHS, the Obama administration has continually refused to offer religious-liberty protections to the vast majority of religious-affiliated institutions. Its much-touted “accommodation” is a sleight-of-hand measure that does nothing to satisfy the objections of the Catholic dioceses and organizations that have filed suit against the government to block the mandate.

Such an intervention into a church’s internal affairs by the federal government flies in the face of some of the basic freedoms for which our Founding Fathers worked and so many of our men and women of the armed services have fought and died.

As Archbishop Lori said in his homily:

Let’s be clear. The efforts of the government to divide the Church into a worship wing and a service wing do not spring from a theoretical interest in how churches are organized. It is part of a broader movement to limit religious freedom to freedom of worship — to accord a fuller degree of religious liberty to houses of worship but a lesser degree of religious freedom to charities, hospitals, and universities.

As chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop Lori knows exactly what is at stake in this fight. He and his brother bishops seem determined to fight this oppressive HHS mandate all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary, to win.

“If left unchecked,” said Archbishop Lori, “this tendency will continue to diminish the influence of religion in helping to shape the character of our country, not only by our words but above all by the way we conduct our ministries of service.”

If the federal government can succeed in taking away the right of a Catholic school or hospital to operate in accordance with our Church’s teachings, then we will have lost a cherished right.

If we want future generations to enjoy freedom on the Fourth of July, then let’s join in solidarity with our Bishops in prayer, education, and action — both during this Fortnight for Freedom and beyond. Find out how by visiting http://www.Fortnight4Freedom.org.

Joshua Mercer is Director of Communications and co-founder of CatholicVote.org, a grassroots organization that provides a voice in politics for hundreds of thousands of lay Catholics. Previously, he served as Chairman of Students for Life of America and also Washington Correspondent for the National Catholic Register.

From catholicpulse.com and the Knights of Columbus

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