The United States was founded by numerous groups fleeing Europe in search of the freedom to practice their religion, free from tyranny or persecution. Now, after hundreds of years, our government – once envisioned to be a tool to protect those freedoms – has seen fit to attempt to restrict the practice of specific Catholic beliefs. Many other Christian people recognize this assault on freedom of religion, and stand in solidarity with us.
Freedom of conscience is a bedrock tenet of this country, and in fact, is recognized as a basic human right. From Wikipedia: In 1948, the issue of the right to “conscience” was dealt with by the United Nations General Assembly in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
I suspect that our current political climate has given rise to the first time many of us have had to exercise this right. Many conscientious objectors have done so in the past, refusing to partake in war. Some have been allowed to serve in noncombatant roles in the military or in civilian service. Others have paid a higher price and been imprisoned or fled the country to avoid the same. Our Catholic heritage is rich with martyrs who have chosen to cling to God rather than submit to earthly rulers and unjust laws.
As a nurse, I exercised my freedom of conscience in declining to be involved in medical procedures that run counter to my religious beliefs. (Read: abortions.) And yes, it came up in situations far removed from the places one would expect. My beliefs were always respected, even if not understood or agreed with. The only cost I paid was the occasional shake of a coworker’s head indicating disagreement.
The Obama administration backed down from its initial directive that medical personnel do not have the right to freedom of conscience in the matter of abortions. The cost this time could have been a fine, a job, or even prison. Public outcry changed that.
Now the threat is to our hospitals, schools, and outreaches that help the poor or those in some sort of need no matter their race or religion. To be very clear: The cost is not to us. It is to those we attempt to serve. (And of course, the many persons employed in this service.)
We are called, first and always, to pray. The United States Council of Catholic Bishops has asked us to educate ourselves and advocate for the protection of conscience rights.
Remember that even those who oppose our beliefs are on a faith journey, whether they acknowledge it or not. I truly believe that the Church is viewed as a country club by many. Therefore, we are faced with a ripe opportunity for evangelization, which is nothing more and nothing less than love in action.
Rather than divisiveness, let us seek to find Christ in others. Let us show Him to others. Let us continue to be His hands, His feet, His voice in this world. His love.
Our mission has not changed. Maybe our awareness of it has – and that’s not a bad thing.
Keep the faith. Do it with courage and with joy. Go forth and bear fruit in a world which hungers for it.
Finally, draw strength from Galatians 5:23: …the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.