The Preciousness of Religious Liberty
It’s an exciting time to be a student at The Catholic University of America.
Yesterday, along with forty-two other Catholic dioceses and organizations in the U.S., Catholic University filed suit against the federal government for imposing a mandate that would require them to cover contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization in their health insurance plans. While the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate technically provides a religious exemption, it is so narrow that most Catholic institutions do not qualify for the exemption. Since the current administration has been unwilling to negotiate a viable compromise and the Senate has failed to overturn it (only the House has passed legislative protection), Catholics are now turning to the judicial branch to protect their religious liberty.
The firestorm that the HHS mandate has ignited is indicative of passionate feelings on both sides of the issue. Advocates of the mandate portray the Church as attempting to block access to contraception, especially in the 16% of cases where it is used for legitimate medical purposes; in reality, however, the Church is not trying to deny access to contraceptives, which are readily available from a variety of sources. Catholic institutions are simply refusing to pay for commodities and services that violate their beliefs. For more information, visit the lawsuit website.
Perhaps our international readers might agree with me that Americans, especially young people, often take their freedoms for granted. Though the U.S. is far from perfect in its record of protecting human rights and the interests of the weakest members of society, it is still a bastion of freedom in the world. Most Americans today have never known the severe religious persecution that once plagued our shores and still happens every day around the world, nor do they know what it is like to receive all of one’s news and information from state-controlled media. Furthermore, the millennial generation has never known a world in which women could not vote and laws sanctioned discrimination against people of color. By “world” of course, I mean America, since its distance from the global community makes it easy for us to live in a bubble. Although we know about human rights abuses happening right now in other parts of the world, they seem unreal to us. It is all too easy to take for granted how fragile freedom is when we have had the privilege of growing up in the freest country on Earth.
While religious liberty might seem like the norm, looking at the rest of the world and even at America’s own history, we can see clearly that institutions and safeguards are vital in protecting not only the freedom to practice one’s religion, but all other crucial freedoms as well. Catholics who are seeking recourse from the Constitution understand this, and that is why they refuse to be complacent.