Bishop Slattery's speech from the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally

Bishop Edward J. Slattery
Bishop of Tulsa
Publication Date: June 11, 2012

by 2Comments () “Of the people, by the people, for the people,” with those nine words President Abraham Lincoln laid out in 1865 the relationship between the government and its people.

“Of the people, by the people, for the people.” This simple but powerful configuration assures that government exists by the will of the people, to serve their needs and to guarantee their right to exercise the inalienable freedoms with which God has endowed humanity.

Foundational to this relationship is the understanding that government neither creates nor bestows our rights.  Indeed, our nation’s founding fathers considered it “self-evident” that all people were created and endowed by God with “certain inalienable rights” among which are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” guarantees that the government never pretends to be either the author or the bestower of those rights.

Sacred Scripture tells us that these rights belong to us because we are created in the image and likeness of God.  When God created humanity, He said, “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.” And so He did, giving our existence a meaning and a purpose which can only be fulfilled by union with Him.  And in order that we might know this purpose, God gifted our  human nature with an innate dignity, a human beauty, an intelligent creativity, and true liberty - what we call the ‘right to life.’

No government can grant us this liberty.  This right to life comes from God at the moment of our conception.  We are conceived as persons and from that moment have all the rights which pertain to humans.  These are not privileges given by our rulers.

Governments sometimes recognize them and may sometimes deny them; but a government “Of the people, by the people, for the people,” must always protect these rights.

Throughout history, many governments have forgotten this fact.  Human history is punctuated with the names of those kings, princes, tyrants and dictators who have forgotten that their obligation is to protect the rights of man; instead, these infamous rulers have tried to reduce their people by giving them value and worth only in so far as they serve the government and foster its programs.

I believe that we are at a crossroads in this country in which the government has acquiesced in taking away the rights of the unborn, in which the government encourages us to see the value of our neighbor in terms of their productivity and the quality of their life.  This puts the elderly at risk from euthanasia and those in vegetative states in danger of clinical murder.

I believe that we are living in a time when the government - in an effort to protect the freedom of religion has slyly turned this into a freedom from religion, so that - little by little - the voice of the believer has been forced into a whisper and our right to live out the tenants of our faith - in education, in health care and in the market place has been challenged by a government which would very much prefer to decide for itself how and when and where we Christians might practice our faith.

This is not government “Of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Still, I hear all around me the claim that religious liberty is secondary to civil responsibility; the claim that government has the right to determine what constitutes moral behavior, even denying to religious groups  the right to articulate for themselves and their adherents an understanding of the moral life consistent with their sacred traditions.  These claims frighten me.

I am afraid for future generations if we allow the government to set the precedent that religious freedoms are subservient to civil responsibility, a precedent that sets faith as secondary to patriotism.

As a people of Faith, and as Citizens of this great nation, we should not be forced to choose one over the other.  These two allegiances are distinct, not contradictory; they should instead be seen as complementary.

Truly the complementarity of faith and patriotism is the history of the Catholic Church in America.

From the time when the first Mass was celebrated in 1559 in what would later become Florida, from the time when the first Catholic Mass was celebrated here in 1875 in what was then called ‘Indian Territory,’ we Catholics have always held on to both faith and patriotism.  We have always sought ways to better our commonwealth.  We have always worked together with our neighbors and fellow citizens for the common good of all.  We respect the land and all who live in this land.

Our Catholic history bears witness to the fact that there is no antagonism between faith and patriotism.

This was also the vision of our founding fathers and is enshrined in our Constitution, which guarantees citizens of all religious faiths the right to contribute to the common good.

And yet, we are gathered here today precisely because now we have been asked to choose between Faith and Patriotism.  For the first time ever in the history of our nation, our government has issued its citizens an ultimatum that would force us either to violate our conscience or violate the law of the land.

No government “of the people, and by the people, and for the people” may do this.   And we - for our sakes - say simply, ‘we will not comply with this ultimatum.’

How insidious is the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate requiring nearly all employers provide health insurance to their employees which covers abortion inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraception.  Abortion is not health care and furthering America’s culture of sterility and death

will not advance the health care of women.

I am not here today to speak in detail about the Catholic faith and why we believe with all our hearts

that artificial contraception is morally repugnant.

If you are curious about why we believe that this HHS mandate would require our complicity in evil,

there are materials available at the table [over there] and I invite you to read them.  But let me make it clear that contraception is not the issue at stake here.

What is at issue is our right to practice our faith as we determine, not as the government would require.

What is at issue here is our right to avoid what we believe to be evil.  What is at issue here is our right to live our faith without limitations, restrictions or intrusions imposed by the government.

Some journalists and pundits have suggested that the Church is trying to force its views onto others.

To this, we reply simply that the Church imposes nothing; but we do propose the truth and it is truth which imposes itself on hearts that seek it.

No, this is not the case of Catholics forcing their faith on others; in reality, it is the other way around.

It is the federal government in Washington that is trying to force its understanding of what constitutes a moral life upon us.  It is the government that is attempting to impose its secular morality upon Catholic employers, upon our schools, churches, our hospitals and medical facilities, our charitable organization,

and even conscientious Catholic small business owners.

It is the government which is requiring us to cover practices which we consider morally repugnant and religiously objectionable.

Make no mistake about this: we are not arguing that artificial contraception should be taken off the market.  Individuals are free to buy contraception and use it.  Employers are free to cover it in the health insurance they sponsor, and insurers are free to write policies which cover it.  We are not disputing the availability of chemical contraceptives.  They are widely available at low or almost no-cost.  Already nine out of 10 employers cover artificial contraception; and even without coverage, the pill costs only about $9 a month from local pharmacies.

No, the availability of contraception is not the issue.  What is the issue is whether Catholics who object to it on religious and moral grounds should be forced by the government to pay for it.  And the answer to that question is a resounding “NO!” and governments “Of the people, by the people, for the people”

must recognize our “no,” because it means we will not comply with this mandate.

Not today.  Not tomorrow.  Not ever.

There are many who sincerely ask why this is still an issue.

After all, they wonder, didn’t the government provide both a religious exemption and an accommodation to such religious groups?

The answer - again - is no.

The government has not put forth a workable religious exemption.  In fact, the religious exemption proposed by the government is written so narrowly as to exclude most Catholic hospitals, schools, universities, and social service providers, even though they are "religious" organizations by any reasonable definition.

We don’t just hire Catholics and we don’t just serve Catholics.  We are eager to draw from the general public and are happy to hire those persons best suited to teach or to nurse or to protect the poor.  And we teach and nurse and protect without regard to the religious affiliation of the student or the patient.

As a matter of religious commitment we serve everyone – Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

It is because we are Catholic that we serve everyone who comes to us, but because we serve anyone who comes to us, the government will not now recognize the religious dimension of our service.

For more than 200 years in America we have been asking:  “Are you hungry?”  “Are you sick?”  “Are you needy?”   But now the government’s mandate would require us to ask first of all: “Are you Catholic?”

To qualify for the government’s religious exemption, our Catholic schools could no longer educate non-Catholic students.  Our hospitals could no longer welcome non-Catholic patients, our Catholic Charities could no longer protect the non-Catholic poor.  We would have to fire all our non-Catholic teachers,  nurses,  technicians and counselors, put out on the street those who are sheltered in our Catholic facilities and narrow our charity to conform with the misguided precepts of a secular government.

Nor does the much publicized ‘accommodation’ offer a solution.

The proposed accommodation is written in nebulous terms and has no firm date for its final definition.

Additionally we remember the HHS rule was finalized as it is, without the accommodation in place.

But further, we want to remind those who question our intransigeance that many of the organizations and institutions sponsored by or affiliated with the Catholic Church are self-insured.

To accommodate a religious objection to what we consider evil by forcing religious insurers to be complicit in that evil is no accommodation.  What the government offers provides us no relief and we will not comply.

When it comes down to a choice between following our conscience or following the mandate,

our path is clear.  We will not comply with this mandate, and neither will we withdraw from our religious commitment to serve all in need without regard to religion.

We will not comply because religious freedom is our “first freedom.”   It is enumerated first in the Bill of Rights and it comes first in priority.   We will not surrender this ‘first freedom’ and we will not accept anything less than the full freedom of conscience to exercise our faith openly and publicly and fully,

whenever and wherever our faith requires.

We will not comply because the freedom of religion is our first freedom and we will defend it as such,

countering the claims of the government with the voice of an engaged, articulate and well-formed laity,

with men and women who have a clear and critical sense of the issues at hand plus the courage to resist a secular society that seeks to marginalize the Church and deny it the right to participate in public discourse concerning the future of American society.

We cannot wait for someone else to take up the fight to defend our Religious freedoms. We will not wait for others to speak up on our behalf.  These are our freedoms and our defense.

We cannot be silent and we will not comply.

Let us Pray:

Almighty God, Father of all nations,

For freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1).

We praise and bless You for the gift of religious liberty,

which You have made the foundation of human rights

and an indispensable light for the common good.

Grant wisdom, we pray, to the leaders of our nation,

that they might protect this liberty,

and to you people, the courage to defend this freedom,

for themselves, their children and for those future generations

who will yet enjoy the bountiful blessings You have accorded this nation.

We ask this through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,

Who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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