Barack Hussein Obama versus the American Christian Churches for Religious Freedom

Obama Admin Threatening Religious Freedom

by Steven Ertelt | Washington, DC | | 9/12/12

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), presented a lecture yesterday for the The John Carroll Society in which he indicated the Obama administration is threatening religious freedom.

Cardinal Dolan, who drew strong praise from pro-life advocates for his closing prayer at the Democratic National Convention in which he called for a respect for human life and religious freedom, indicated the Obama HHS mandate is the source of the attack.

With the theme of “Let Religious Freedom Ring”, Cardinal Dolan noted that “freedom of religion has been the driving force of almost every enlightened, un-shackling, noble cause in American history.”

“This is good reminder, since, today, those who criticize the churches’ mobilization in defense of religious freedom often slyly muddy it with ‘war on women’ slogans,” he said.

Speaking specifically about the HHS mandate, Dolan named it as a specific threat to religious freedom because it requires Catholic and other religious employers to pay for or refer women for abortion-causing drugs.

“Thus, to say it again, the wide ecumenical and inter-religious outrage over the HHS mandate is not about its coverage of chemical contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs — in spite of the well-oiled mantra from our opponents — but upon the raw presumption of a bureau of the federal government to define a church’s minister, ministry, message, and meaning,” he said.

Cardinal Dolan also took on pro-abortion Democratic minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, who upset Catholics last year when she bemoaned their desire for conscience protections on abortion and pro-life issue, saying the Catholic Church needed “to get over their conscience thing.”

“No, we don’t; no, we can’t; as believers, as Americans,” Dolan responded, adding that the Catholic Church desires “the freedom to carry the convictions of a faith-formed conscience into our public lives.”

Barack Obama and the new moral orthodoxy

By Tom Swanson


Daily Caller

In a recent audience with Italian government officials in Milan, Pope Benedict XVI exhorted the attendees to recommit themselves to freedom, saying “freedom is not a privilege for the few but a right for all, a valuable right which the civil power must guarantee.” This commitment to individual freedom from overbearing civil authority is a relatively recent development in the Catholic Church’s view of government, and it has gone largely unnoticed by the greater public.

While most people are familiar with the medieval Church’s theocratic mistakes in the trial of Galileo or the Spanish Inquisition, very few people realize that the modern Church has actually warmed up to the idea of a secular state. “Herein lies one of the principal elements of the secularism of the state,” Pope Benedict said later in his speech, “to guarantee freedom so that all may propose their own vision of common life.” Not only does this kind of statement refute the left’s traditional charge that the Church wants to “impose its morality” on all secular states, but it also denies the religious right’s misguided and repeated demands for just such impositions.

Religion’s role in American society has been open for debate for decades now, but Obamacare has brought the issue to the forefront of the national debate. One of the law’s provisions requires religious employers (and other conscientious objectors) to include family planning services in their employee health insurance plans. The Obama administration has denied religious organizations’ petitions for exemption. The mandate will take legal effect on August 1.

Ironically, the Obama administration is the one “imposing its morality” in this case. Catholic organizations are simply invoking their most basic First Amendment rights. President Obama and Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are the ones making a moral argument. They argue that free contraceptives are a “right” and it is somehow immoral for employers not to pay for them, regardless of what employers’ consciences say on the matter.

In a strange twist of fate, religious institutions now find themselves under attack from America’s new theocracy: Obama, Sebelius and their ilk — would-be theocrats who seek to impose their own moral orthodoxy of collectivism, political correctness and statism. Now it is the president, not the Church, who wants to circumvent the rule of law for the sake of imposing his vision of morality and social justice. The administration’s will to enforce its own moral dogma, rather than the Constitution, is the seed of theocracy.

Predictably, the political left is trying to spin Obama’s and Sebelius’s behavior as a defense of the separation of church and state. Separation of church and state is important, but this is a total misapplication of the principle. Building a secular state does not mean stripping religious groups of their constitutional rights. In this case, the state is interfering with religious institutions, not vice versa. The separation of church and state is being threatened — by the state.

In his speech, Pope Benedict explicitly acknowledged the “different and distinct aims and roles of the civil authority and the Church.” Does this sound like someone who is interested in forcing his moral code on the unwilling? After centuries of building and supporting theocratic regimes in Europe, the Catholic Church has recognized the wisdom of maintaining a secular state, wherein “all may propose their own vision of common life” and church and state are free to pursue their “different and distinct aims” within society.

However, as constitutionalists marshal their forces to defend freedom of religion, the religious right also needs to take Benedict’s words to heart. The state does not exist to enforce the mysterious theological tenets of any religion or creed. It is neither interested in nor capable of enforcing religious dogma or saving immortal souls. This does not mean the state should be immoral; it means the state should be amoral.

The Obama administration and the religious right need to recognize what our founding fathers recognized: that a truly just government is one that defends liberty. A just government allows the free exchange of goods and ideas, and encourages the private missions of churches, charities and individuals. Above all, a just government permits all free minds to seek truth according to their own reason and live according to their own consciences.

Tom Swanson is the Programs and New Media Intern at the America’s Future Foundation and a senior at the University of Notre Dame. You can contact him at

Church leaders release open letter on religious liberty

By Adriane Dorr
June 26, 2012

National Right to Life

In the aftermath of the recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) contentious mandate regarding religious organizations’ coverage of contraceptive services, more than 20 religious leaders have signed their names to a letter — drafted by LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison and released June 21 — in support of religious liberty.

Titled “Free Exercise of Religion: Putting Beliefs into Practice,” the document upholds Americans’ right to religious freedom, encourages the exercise of religious liberty in the public square and speaks in opposition to “the application of the contraceptive mandate to religious institutions.”

“We drafted this letter because there are moments in history where one needs to speak and stand for basic principle,” Harrison said. “The time to confess is now. We don’t know what tomorrow might bring. We have been too silent as our nation has continued to slip into the morass of relativism.”

Speaking more broadly, the letter also asks Americans to be “united in the conviction that no religious institution should be penalized for refusing to go against its beliefs,” affirming that “No government should tell religious organizations either what to believe or how to put their beliefs into practice.”

Prepared in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) — the federal government’s much-discussed health-care reform legislation — the letter “pleads for … the retraction” of the HHS mandate, which is included in the PPACA statute [1]. A ruling from the Supreme Court on the PPACA was expected within days of the letter’s release.

Support of the letter has been far-reaching. In addition to Harrison, signatories include the Most Rev. William E. Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Leaders from the Orthodox Church in America, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, the Hispanic Evangelical Association, the General Council of the Assemblies of God, the Islamic Society of Washington Area and others also have signed their names to the letter.

In Lutheran circles, signatories include leaders of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Concordia Deaconess Conference and the North American Lutheran Church.

Harrison says he is encouraged by the display of support from fellow religious leaders. “We are entering, what I believe, will be a long and supremely challenging time for the church to be the church,” he said. “Take heart. Jesus Himself says, ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail.’”

To read “Free Exercise of Religion: Putting Beliefs into Practice” in its entirety — and watch a related video — go to

Adriane Dorr is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness. Reprinted, with permission, from Reporter Online (, the national newspaper of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Bishops press religious-freedom fight with gov't

June 13, 2012
By RACHEL ZOLL, Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — The nation's Roman Catholic bishops on Wednesday promised steadfast opposition to President Barack Obama's mandate that birth control be covered by health insurance, saying it is one of many threats to religious freedom in government.

Bishops insisted repeatedly that they had no partisan agenda. They said they were forced into action by state and federal policies that they say would require them to violate their beliefs in order to maintain the vast public-service network the church has built over a century or longer.

"It is not about parties, candidates or elections as others have suggested," said Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, chairman of the bishops' religious-liberty committee. "The government chose to pick a fight with us."

The meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Atlanta is its first since dioceses, universities and Catholic charities filed a dozen federal lawsuits over Obama's rule that employers provide health insurance covering birth control.

The provision, part of the White House health care overhaul, generally exempts houses of worship, but faith-affiliated employers would have to comply.

Federal officials have said the rule is critical to preserving women's health by helping them space out their pregnancies.

Still, Obama has offered to soften the rule for religious employers by requiring insurance companies to cover the cost instead of faith groups. The administration is taking public comment through next week while working out the details, but bishops have said that the changes proposed so far do not put enough moral distance between the church and artificial contraception.

The bishops are organizing a "Fortnight for Freedom," two weeks of rallies and prayer services on religious freedom leading up to July Fourth. Archbishop Carlo Vigano, the pope's ambassador to the United States, told the bishops that the advocacy effort "has my full support."

Vigano noted that the religious-freedom push required a "delicate" approach in the context of a presidential election. But, quoting from a previous talk by Pope Benedict XVI about Catholics speaking out on public policy, the ambassador said the concerns were so worrisome that bishops had to act. Church leaders gave Vigano a standing ovation.

"It goes without saying that the Catholic Church in the United States is living in a particularly challenging period of its history," Vigano told the conference.

Many Catholics across the political spectrum have said they agree a broader religious exemption is needed for the mandate, but have still raised questions about the church's strategy of lawsuits and rallies.

"Most bishops don't want to be the Republican party at prayer, but their alarmist rhetoric and consistent antagonism toward the Obama administration often convey that impression," said John Gehring, of the liberal advocacy group Faith in Public Life.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., a member of the bishops' religious-liberty committee, said he had suggested the "Fortnight for Freedom" in November to coincide with liturgical feasts of martyred defenders of the faith including Thomas More.

"My intention was thinking of liturgy events, and that it was a time of prayer and education, not that it's a time for a political rally," Paprocki said.

Chicago Cardinal Francis George said the bishops had "every reason to hope and pray" that the Obama administration would respond to their concerns on the birth control mandate. But he said they needed to consider whether they should close their charities or take other action if no such accommodation is made. The bishops planned more discussion of the issue in private sessions throughout the week.

The bishops repeatedly emphasized that they were united in their agenda. Recently, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., expressed concern in an interview with America, the national Jesuit magazine, that the timing of the lawsuits could be seen as overly political.

Critics of the lawsuits seized on the remarks as evidence the bishops were divided. In Atlanta, however, Blaire spoke out forcefully against the birth control mandate.
"We have to get the government out of defining the church," he said. "We have an enormous battle ahead of us."

Church and State Debate Renewed

The Hartford Courant

June 11, 2012

Jim Mandro, a Roman Catholic from West Haven, doesn't go to church to hear political sermons.

But the 48-year-old former bus driver said he thinks Catholics had been "beaten down by the media and the liberals," particularly on same-sex marriage, abortion rights and the Obama administration's mandate requiring church-affiliated colleges and hospitals to offer insurance plans that cover birth control.

"I believe in separation of church and state unless the state is dictating to the church what it can and can't do…Then the church should fire back," Mandro said Friday afternoon, as he waited for a rally in support of religious freedom to start on the New Haven green.

The rally was part of a campaign by the nation's Roman Catholic bishops to urge parishioners, including Mandro, to fight back against what they view as a series of government encroachments into religious freedom, which they call "our first, most cherished liberty."

Beginning June 20 and concluding on Independence Day, Catholic parishes from Connecticut to California will participate in "Fortnight for Freedom," a two-week campaign of prayer, reflection and activism.
"To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other. Our allegiances are distinct, but they need not be contradictory, and should instead be complementary,'' the bishops wrote in an April statement outlining the campaign.

The Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty — led by William E. Lori, formerly bishop of Bridgeport and now the archbishop of Baltimore — rejects the notion that this is a partisan issue targeting Obama and the Democrats.

"The Constitution is not for Democrats or Republicans or Independents,'' the bishops' statement said. "It is for all of us, and a great nonpartisan effort should be led by our elected representatives to ensure that it remains so.''

Maria Zone, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Hartford, said the effort does not mean that priests will be telling parishioners who to vote for in November. "We're just letting people know what our position is,'' she said. "Will that impact certain voters? Probably, but I can't speak for the voters.''

The bishops outline a number of concerns in addition to the contraception mandate, among them restrictive state laws banning churches from ministering to undocumented immigrants and policies that prohibit government contracts with Catholic Charities adoption agencies because they refuse to place children with same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples.

Liberal critics say the Fortnight for Freedom is a blatantly political effort that injects the church into the 2012 presidential race. They say the healthcare mandate is the church's chief complaint and they question the timing of the campaign, just four months before the November election.

"The bishops are wary about taking sides,'' said Paul Lakeland, professor of religious studies at Fairfield University and director of the school's Center for Catholic Studies.

However, Lakeland said, the bishops' strident tone and sharp rhetoric "puts them in direct conflict with the White House on some make-or-break-issues of public policy for the church," including same sex marriage and the health care mandate.

Indeed, Republican candidates across the nation have echoed the church's message as they speak out against the administration's policy.

"The Department of Health and Human Services … overreached its authority and infringed on the constitutional rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,'' Republican U.S. Senate candidate Christopher Shays wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius when the controversy erupted earlier this year.  "The implications are alarming. I support reproductive freedom for women, but I do not support this new requirement. Employees have constitutional rights — and so do employers."

The Obama administration's complicated accommodation, announced in February, aimed to make the policy more palatable to some Catholics. The accommodation essentially shifts the burden of paying for contraception coverage from the religiously affiliated charities and universities to insurance companies.

But the accommodation remains unacceptable to church leaders, said Zone, the Hartford Archdioceses spokeswoman. "Our faithful are committed to upholding their moral convictions.''

The 213 parishes of the Hartford Archdiocese are participating in the Fortnight for Freedom campaign in a number of ways. Some priests will incorporate the bishop's message into their Sunday sermons and in church bulletins.

At Sacred Heart R.C. Church in New Britain, parishioners will be asked to sign a book that will be presented to Hartford Archbishop Henry J. Mansell.

Monsignor Daniel Plocharczyk, the pastor at Sacred Heart, said parishioners feel besieged by a government policy that they believe violates their First Amendment rights. "Our freedom to practice our faith is being challenged and our bishops will not stand for it,'' he said. "Why are they doing this to the Catholic Church? Everybody else gets all sorts of freedoms and respect."

Sacred Heart holds masses in English and in Polish and Plocharczyk said some of the parish's Polish immigrants say they see a parallel between the formerly Communist nation and the health care mandate. "Government is sticking its nose where it doesn't belong,'' is how they see it, he said.

At the rally at New Haven on Friday, which was not organized by the Catholic Church, although Auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza was one of the speakers, some Catholic attendees expressed a similar view. "It's like stomping on our right to religious freedom," said Miriam Hart, a 50-year-old retired school teacher from North Branford.

The Catholic Church Confronts Socialism

June 4, 2012
Lubbock Online

Barack Obama has awakened the Catholic Church in America and has roused another sleeping giant.  The Catholic Church is painfully familiar with the totalitarian and atheistic ideology of Socialism.  The Catholic Church has battled Marxism in Europe and Asia and Fascism in Germany, Italy, and now in the Middle East.

The Catholic Church understands and openly acknowledges that the foundations and goals of Socialism are rooted in seizing power, stealing money, destroying hope and the human spirit, removing religion from public access, and enslaving the people.  Socialism is recognized as Evil with no hope of refining it.

Since Obama began to use ObamaCare to attack, remove, and eventually destroy Religious Liberty, the Catholic Church and people of many other religions have joined together in opposing Obama and his attempt to destroy Religious Liberty.  Father Andrew of Saint Thomas More Catholic Church in Centennial, Colorado, recently gave the opening prayer and addressed the 2012 Colorado Republican State Assembly and Convention.

The following are the transcribed words of Father Andrew from about 1:45 minutes into the above video.  These are the inspired words of a patriot who understands the enemy he is confronting.

...this is not an issue between Liberals and Conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. This is an issue between Democracy and Socialism. Now, when WE talk about Socialism, that sounds politically incorrect, but as a Catholic, I have earned a free pass to talk about Socialism because others who have stood with us have DIED at the hands of Socialists for the past two centuries!

And we know a little something about religious persecution, and I'd like to share a a few reflections.

The first is, whenever we have a religious liberty stopped, it is a HALLMARK of Socialism, and will never be compatible with Christianity for at least two reasons: Personal Choice and Private Property.

Personal Choice has to do with the personal conscience because you're responsible and re-countable for all the things that God has given to us, and that allows us private property so we can be generous and return it to our Lord and Savior at our close.

Government, Socialists -- Socialists want to take that responsibility away from us, and that goes against our religion! We see.. WE believe, Conscience and Private Property are NOT HUMAN IDEAS. They come from God, not from humans! Socialists do not accept Biblical Truth. They do not understand NATURAL LAW!

You see, WE believe these are from Our Creator, endowing us with Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness. Sounds familiar? It should, because they are framed in our Constitution, therefore we know that Socialism will never be compatible with our Democracy, the way we have it.

As we face this third century of this threat, I as a Catholic, invite everyone of conscience to join us, as people have in the past -- to join this fight against the threat of our religious liberty. And I assure you, that if we do not stand up and be counted at this time, we know the price that has to be paid if we lose this fight, and as a Catholic, I assure you -- we will pay that price again.

Socialism is a foreign threat to our Democracy. I am tired of this experiment, and I hope you are tired of it, too!

God bless America! Let Freedom ring!

We are fortunate to have great Americans like Father Andrew in our battle for Liberty.  Many more such patriots will join in the battle as the General Election becomes closer and Obama’s Socialist destruction becomes increasingly clearer.

Socialism does not tolerate the protection of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  We are all tired of Socialism.  We are tired of Socialism destroying our prosperity, our joy, our freedom, our time, and our future. 

Obama eroding religious liberty

Kingsley Guy COLUMNIST
June 3, 2012

Religious freedom, enshrined as the first freedom in the Bill of Rights, is a given in the United States. Or at least it was until the Obama administration decided it would try to turn religious institutions into agents of the state.

It's doing so by decreeing that hospitals, schools, charities and other institutions run by churches must provide employee insurance policies that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. The administration arrogated this power to itself through the constitutionally questionable Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.

Catholic doctrine stands opposed to contraception and abortion. Church leaders object to the decree from the Department of Health and Human Services because it would force their institutions to pay for drugs, devices and services that violate the church's moral principles. In one of the most contemptuous displays of political power in recent history, President Obama announced a unilateral "compromise" by which insurance companies and not the church institutions would pay for the coverage. But many of the institutions are self-insured, and those that aren't would have the costs passed on to them in one form or another. The "compromise" is a distinction without a difference that doesn't address the church's moral qualms. The Catholic leadership is fighting back politically and in the courts. So are leaders from other denominations. Wish them well. If leviathan government succeeds in chipping away at the first freedom, it will set it sights on the others.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of the Archdiocese of Miami recognizes this. In support of lawsuits filed recently by 43 Catholic institutions, he declared: "Our government is attempting to order us to violate our conscience, teachings and beliefs. What would be the next mandate by our government; what other amendment of the Bill of Rights would be violated?"

Those are fighting words, and a clear declaration that the church isn't about to back down from this battle with an overbearing administration that has demonstrated a dangerous inclination to regard the Constitution as a quaint anachronism.

Three Protestant evangelical colleges have filed suit as well. The chief concern of their leaders is the requirement that abortifacients must be paid for by what they call a "conscience tax." The HHS decree exempts employees of a the church itself, and this draws a distinction between the building with the altar and the institutions that carry out a church's good works. By doing so, the Obama administration is attempting to redefine the freedom of religion as the freedom to worship, and thereby diminish the capacity of religious institutions to exist independent of the state. This suits the purpose of leviathan government just fine.

The Obama administration has sought to make this an issue about contraception and women's rights, but nobody's talking about banning contraception or denying access to it. The vast majority of insurance policies cover contraception. Birth control pills are inexpensive, and government programs pay for contraception for those who can't afford it. If an exemption were granted for religious institutions, nothing would change from today.

This is a fight over religious liberty that the nation has enjoyed since its inception, but which is now under threat by an administration that seeks to pit Americans against each other in cynical efforts to win votes.

If any of the recent suits make it to the U.S. Supreme Court, don't expect the justices to divide along partisan lines. They certainly didn't in the landmark Hosanna-Tabor decision handed down in January.

In that case, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission asserted it had the authority for employment purposes to determine who qualified as a minister, but the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Luther and School thought otherwise and went to court.

Eric Holder's Justice Department argued that the church had no more First Amendment protection than a social club in its hiring, but the court declared such an argument is, "... hard to square with the text of the First Amendment itself, which gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations. We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization's freedom to select its own ministers."

Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor even joined the court's biting 9-0 rebuke of the administration that appointed them.


March 7, 2012
The Blaze

Over the past week, the media firestorm surrounding Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh has eclipsed the larger issue of religious liberty that stands at the forefront of the contraception mandate.

With the distracting debate raging, Fluke has received the majority of the media attention surrounding the subject. New developments in the faith world, unfortunately, have gone unnoticed. Of particular note is a public letter that was penned on March 2 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan (also president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops).

The letter recaps a bizarre conversation U.S. Conference staff recently had with White House officials regarding the mandate. In fact, Dolan seems to allege that government officials lectured Catholic leaders about church teaching, writing:

At a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff, our staff members asked directly whether the broader concerns of religious freedom—that is, revisiting the straight-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption—are all off the table. They were informed that they are.  So much for “working out the wrinkles.”  Instead, they advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the “enlightened” voices of accommodation, such as the recent, hardly surprising yet terribly unfortunate editorial in America.  The White House seems to think we bishops simply do not know or understand Catholic teaching and so, taking a cue from its own definition of religious freedom, now has nominated its own handpicked official Catholic teachers.
Dolan went on to explain that this situation is “hardly partisan” and that church officials will continue to meet with Republicans and Democrats, alike, to address the issue of religious freedom.

Dolan went on to explain that this situation is “hardly partisan” and that church officials will continue to meet with Republicans and Democrats, alike, to address the issue of religious freedom.

Office of the President

3211 FOURTH STREET NE WASHINGTON DC 20017-1194 202-541-3100 FAX 202-541-3166
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan Archbishop of New York President

March 2, 2012

My brother bishops,

Twice in recent weeks, I have written you to express my gratitude for our unity in faith and action as we move forward to protect our religious freedom from unprecedented intrusion from a government bureau, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I remain deeply grateful to you for your determined resolve, to the Chairmen of our committees directly engaged in these efforts - Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Bishop Stephen Blaire and Bishop William Lori -who have again shown themselves to be such excellent leaders during these past weeks, and to all our staff at the USCCB who work so diligently under the direction of the Conference leadership.

How fortunate that we as a body have had opportunities during our past plenary assemblies to manifest our strong unity in defense of religious freedom. We rely on that unity now more than ever as HHS seeks to define what constitutes church ministry and how it can be exercised. We will once again dedicate ample time at our Administrative Committee meeting next week, and at the June Plenary Assembly, to this critical subject. We will continue to listen, discuss, deliberate and act.

Thank you, brothers, for the opportunity to provide this update to you and the dioceses you serve. Many of you have expressed your thanks for what we have achieved together in so few weeks, especially the data provided and the leadership given by brother bishops, our conference staff and Catholic faithful. And you now ask the obvious question, “What’s next?” Please allow me to share with you now some thoughts about events and efforts to date and where we might go next.

Since January 20, when the final, restrictive HHS Rule was first announced, we have become certain of two things: religious freedom is under attack, and we will not cease our struggle to protect it. We recall the words of our Holy Father Benedict XVI to our brother bishops on their recent ad limina visit: “Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.” Bishop Stephen Blaire and Bishop William Lori, with so many others, have admirably kept us focused on this one priority of protecting religious freedom. We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans. We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it.

As pastors and shepherds, each of us would prefer to spend our energy engaged in and promoting the works of mercy to which the Church is dedicated: healing the sick, teaching our youth, and helping the poor. Yet, precisely because we are pastors and shepherds, we recognize that each of the ministries entrusted to us by Jesus is now in jeopardy due to this bureaucratic intrusion into the internal life of the church. You and I both know well that we were doing those extensive and noble works rather well without these radical new constrictive and forbidding mandates. Our Church has a long tradition of effective partnership with government and the wider community in the service of the sick, our children, our elders, and the poor at home and abroad, and we sure hope to continue it.

Of course, we maintained from the start that this is not a “Catholic” fight alone. I like to quote as often as possible a nurse who emailed me, “I’m not so much mad about all this as a Catholic, but as an American.” And as we recall, a Baptist minister, Governor Mike Huckabee, observed, “In this matter, we’re all Catholics.” No doubt you have heard numerous statements just like these. We are grateful to know so many of our fellow Americans, especially our friends in the ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, stand together in this important moment in our country. They know that this is not just about sterilization, abortifacients, and chemical contraception. It’s about religious freedom, the sacred right of any Church to define its own teaching and ministry.

When the President announced on January 20th that the choking mandates from HHS would remain, not only we bishops and our Catholic faithful, but people of every faith, or none at all, rallied in protest. The worry that we had expressed -- that such government control was contrary to our deepest political values -- was eloquently articulated by constitutional scholars and leaders of every creed.

On February 10th, the President announced that the insurance providers would have to pay the bill, instead of the Church’s schools, hospitals, clinics, or vast network of charitable outreach having to do so. He considered this “concession” adequate. Did this help? We wondered if it would, and you will recall that the Conference announced at first that, while withholding final judgment, we would certainly give the President’s proposal close scrutiny. Well, we did -- and as you know, we are as worried as ever.

For one, there was not even a nod to the deeper concerns about trespassing upon religious freedom, or of modifying the HHS’ attempt to define the how and who of our ministry. Two, since a big part of our ministries are “self-insured,” we still ask how this protects us. We’ll still have to pay and, in addition to that, we’ll still have to maintain in our policies practices which our Church has consistently taught are grave wrongs in which we cannot participate. And what about forcing individual believers to pay for what violates their religious freedom and conscience? We can’t abandon the hard working person of faith who has a right to religious freedom. And three, there was still no resolution about the handcuffs placed upon renowned Catholic charitable agencies, both national and international, and their exclusion from contracts just because they will not refer victims of human trafficking, immigrants and refugees, and the hungry of the world, for abortions, sterilization, or contraception. In many ways, the announcement of February 10 solved little and complicated a lot. We now have more questions than answers, more confusion than clarity.

So the important question arises: What to do now? How can we bishops best respond, especially united in our common pastoral ministry as an Episcopal Conference? For one, under the ongoing leadership of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Bishop Blaire and Bishop Lori we will continue our strong efforts of advocacy and education. In the coming weeks the Conference will continue to provide you, among other things, with catechetical resources on the significance of religious freedom to the Church and the Church’s teaching on it from a doctrinal and moral perspective. We are developing liturgical aids to encourage prayer in our efforts and plans on how we can continue to voice our public and strong opposition to this infringement on our freedom. And the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, that has served the Conference so well in its short lifespan, will continue its extraordinary work in service to this important cause.

Two, we will ardently continue to seek a rescinding of the suffocating mandates that require us to violate our moral convictions, or at least insist upon a much wider latitude to the exemptions so that churches can be free of the new, rigidly narrow definition of church, minister and ministry that would prevent us from helping those in need, educating children and healing the sick, no matter their religion.

In this regard, the President invited us to “work out the wrinkles.” We have accepted that invitation. Unfortunately, this seems to be stalled: the White House Press Secretary, for instance, informed the nation that the mandates are a fait accompli (and, embarrassingly for him, commented that we bishops have always opposed Health Care anyway, a charge that is scurrilous and insulting, not to mention flat out wrong. Bishop Blaire did a fine job of setting the record straight.) The White House already notified Congress that the dreaded mandates are now published in the Federal Registry “without change.” The Secretary of HHS is widely quoted as saying, “Religious insurance companies don’t really design the plans they sell based on their own religious tenets.” That doesn’t bode well for their getting a truly acceptable “accommodation.”

At a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff, our staff members asked directly whether the broader concerns of religious freedom—that is, revisiting the straight-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption—are all off the table. They were informed that they are. So much for “working out the wrinkles.” Instead, they advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the “enlightened” voices of accommodation, such as the recent, hardly surprising yet terribly unfortunate editorial in America. The White House seems to think we bishops simply do not know or understand Catholic teaching and so, taking a cue from its own definition of religious freedom, now has nominated its own handpicked official Catholic teachers.

We will continue to accept invitations to meet with and to voice our concerns to anyone of any party, for this is hardly partisan, who is willing to correct the infringements on religious freedom that we are now under. But as we do so, we cannot rely on off the record promises of fixes without deadlines and without assurances of proposals that will concretely address the concerns in a manner that does not conflict with our principles and teaching.

Congress might provide more hope, since thoughtful elected officials have proposed legislation to protect what should be so obvious: religious freedom. Meanwhile, in our recent debate in the senate, our opponents sought to obscure what is really a religious freedom issue by maintaining that abortion inducing drugs and the like are a “woman’s health issue.” We will not let this deception stand. Our commitment to seeking legislative remedies remains strong. And it is about remedies to the assault on religious freedom. Period. (By the way, the Church hardly needs to be lectured about health care for women. Thanks mostly to our Sisters, the Church is the largest private provider of health care for women and their babies in the country.) Bishop William Lori, Chairman of our Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, stated it well in a recent press release: “We will build on this base of support as we pursue legislation in the House of Representatives, urge the Administration to change its course on this issue, and explore our legal rights under the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
 Perhaps the courts offer the most light. In the recent Hosanna-Tabor ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously defended the right of a Church to define its own ministry and services, a dramatic rebuff to the administration, apparently unheeded by the White House. Thus, our bishops’ conference, many individual religious entities, and other people of good will are working with some top-notch law firms who feel so strongly about this that they will represent us pro-bono. In the upcoming days, you will hear much more about this encouraging and welcome development.

Given this climate, we have to prepare for tough times. Some, like America magazine, want us to cave-in and stop fighting, saying this is simply a policy issue; some want us to close everything down rather than comply (In an excellent article, Cardinal Francis George wrote that the administration apparently wants us to “give up for Lent” our schools, hospitals, and charitable ministries); some, like Bishop Robert Lynch wisely noted, wonder whether we might have to engage in civil disobedience and risk steep fines; some worry that we’ll have to face a decision between two ethically repugnant choices: subsidizing immoral services or no longer offering insurance coverage, a road none of us wants to travel.

Brothers, we know so very well that religious freedom is our heritage, our legacy and our firm belief, both as loyal Catholics and Americans. There have been many threats to religious freedom over the decades and years, but these often came from without. This one sadly comes from within. As our ancestors did with previous threats, we will tirelessly defend the timeless and enduring truth of religious freedom.

I look forward to our upcoming Administrative Board Meeting and our June Plenary Assembly when we will have the chance to discuss together these important issues and our way forward in addressing them. And I renew my thanks to you for your tremendous, fraternal support and your welcome observations in this critical effort to protect our religious freedom.

With prayerful best wishes, I am Fraternally in Christ,

Timothy Cardinal Dolan

Archbishop of New York

President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops