July 17, 2014
The West Texas Catholic: On June 30, the United States Supreme Court rendered a decision in the Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case. Let’s discuss your reaction to the verdict, but more importantly, the need to remind folks that this is far from over.
Bishop Zurek: You’re absolutely right. My first comment would be that it is a good start, following up on many lower court decisions that have been favorable to us by not imposing an undue burden upon a group of people, in other words the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The decision came as a consequence of reflection on RFRA, and not on the constitutionality of the freedom of religion. This will probably play out next June when the lawsuits that are being opposed by the Catholic universities along with other non-Catholic religious institutions, hospitals and charitable institutions, and many dioceses throughout the United States that have entered into that lawsuit, including we here in the Diocese of Amarillo.
We still need to work to protect religious freedom. One point that the Church has been trying to constantly make is that people do not give up their religious freedom when they open a family business. They should not have to check their values and religious convictions at the door when they enter the marketplace. That can be extended all the way across into the Church itself. No Catholic institution, church, or person of faith should have to check their values and religious convictions at the door when they leave the church, synagogue, temple, or other place of worship on their particular Sabbath.
The Church has always taught that society dedicated to freedom and diversity must respect the freedom of its citizens to live and to work in accordance with their religious convictions. In his apostolic exhortation, Gaudium Evangelii (The Joy of the Gospel), no. 255, Pope Francis writes that “A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques.”
The case we dealt with, with Hobby Lobby, shows how generous the Green Family has been in providing its employees with good wages, good working conditions, and good strong health coverage. But because Hobby Lobby objected in conscience to covering really only four objectionable drugs and devices—Plan B and Ella and two types of IUD—the government would fine them $100 a day (that is $36,500 a year) per employee if they do not follow the mandate.
Picture that happening in the Church; that is exactly where we will be next year unless the Supreme Court sides with the Church so that we too cannot be forced to bear a burden that is undue, cumbersome and too heavy in order to practice our Faith.
As the Catholic Church, let me reaffirm, that we are longstanding advocates of universal, accessible and life-affirming health care. The burdens that come with the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, allow the HHS mandate to harshly penalize us and others who cannot, in good conscience, provide drugs and services that violate our religious freedoms and beliefs.
Interestingly, the administration has shown flexibility in implementing the Affordable Care Act with respect to others. We are asking that the administration extend that same flexibility to us and to others with deep faith convictions and with religious liberty concerns as well.
Because the HHS mandate applies to religious ministries of service, there are some great problems. In many ways the Obama Administration has defined what is and what is not a religious ministry within the Catholic Church. That is not its prerogative, nor is it its competence. The Constitution grants in the First Amendment that the believing community determine its doctrine and how it practices and lives that doctrine. Because the HHS mandate applies to religious ministries of service, it will hurt the people who have the greatest need; it will harm mostly the poor and those who serve the poor. By threatening faith-based charities, schools, hospitals and social service ministries with steep fines for noncompliance, the regulation threatens the ability of those ministries to serve the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, to provide education to the poorest and the most basic necessities of life to the most needy.
One of the documents of Vatican Council II (Dignatitis Humanae) stated that the Church has an obligation to serve and so needs the freedom to serve. It says: “The social nature of man and the very nature of religion afford the foundation of the right of people freely to hold meetings and to establish educational, cultural, charitable and social organizations, under the impulse of their own religious sense, beliefs and convictions.”
In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Benedict said that the Church’s deepest nature is three-fold. First is the responsibility to proclaim the word of God—from the final commendation to the Apostles made by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel to “Go and teach.” Second is to celebrate the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist—Christ at the Last Supper consecrated the bread and the wine and said “Do this in remembrance of me.” Third is to exercise the ministry of charity—in Matthew’s Gospel, the Final Judgment when Jesus said: “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, naked and you clothed me, sick and in prison and you visited me, had no house and you welcomed me.” The Church’s ministry is defined by Jesus Christ and not by some human administration no matter which country.
All too often we hear people say: Don’t try to force your religious beliefs on us. This is not about religious people trying to force their beliefs on others. It is about government officials trying to force their personal beliefs on religious people, on people of faith and conviction.
Let’s return to what Pope Francis said on June 20, this year: “Reason recognizes that religious freedom is a fundamental right of all people, reflecting their highest dignity, that of seeking the truth and adhering to it, and recognizing it as an indispensable condition for realizing all their potential. Religious freedom is not simply freedom of thought or private worship, on a given Sunday. It is the freedom to live according to ethical principles, both privately and publicly of their faith.” To put their faith into action; remember it was St. James who said that faith without acts is dead.
Finally, I quote from Gaudium et Spes, a document from Vatican Council II, whose 50th anniversary we celebrated last year, where the Council Fathers were very clear: “Christians who take an active part in present-day socio-economic development and fight for justice and charity should be convinced that they do make a great contribution to the prosperity of mankind and to the peace of the world. In these activities let them, either as individuals or as members of groups, give a shining example. It is very clear they must be able to live the faith.
The Church teaches that Jesus came so that humanity could be transformed. Individually, each man, each woman, slowly transform into a deeper, crystal clear image of Jesus Christ, which in turn, become contagious in the sense that others will see the love, the care, the concern the Christian people have for others, even people of no faith. Then they are transformed and eventually the whole world will be transformed. That, my friends, is the mission of Christ; it is the mission of the Church. It is the mission that we are fighting to preserve—to be able to live our faith in the marketplace, to publicly speak of our faith. In that way we are more fully made into Christ and through our proclamation and participation in the mission of the Church to evangelize, we bring others to salvation and to the joy of being saved. More fundamentally we bring them to the peace that we can have only when we put our faith and our love in God.