The Good Steward | Stewards of religious liberty counter distorted claims

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My guess is that most Catholics in the United States don't know what to make of the quarrel between the leaders of our Church and the Obama administration.

They're confused, especially since this is taking place during an election year with ever-escalating accusations and counter-accusations by representatives of different political parties and interest groups.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, leads the Archdiocese of New York, one of 43 Catholic organizations that filed suit against the Obama administration's mandate. He said, "We have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with Congress -- and will keep at it -- and there's still no fix. Time is running out and our precious ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now."

The lawsuits seek to prevent the government from defining who qualifies as a religious organization. Cardinal Dolan called the move "a compelling display of the unity of the Church in defense of religious liberty."

In two fierce editorials, the New York Times calls the lawsuits "an attack on access to contraception based on bogus claims of religious freedom" and dismissed out of hand the Church's right to defend its religious freedom. The secular media also commonly cite the number of American women, including many Catholics, who use artificial contraceptives.

The issue of religious liberty is ignored, and fundamental constitutional issues are not even discussed. The strategy, successful in the past, is to accuse the Church of being anti-women and of imposing its morality on others.

In fact, the reverse is true. The Obama administration seeks to impose its secular agenda on religious organizations. And the so-called exemption supposedly granted to religious institutions is so narrowly defined that only the most introverted and self-serving organizations can qualify.

Too many wars have been fought, and too much blood has been spent, in defense of Americans' right to practice their religious principles without government interference. That makes us all stewards of the gift of freedom. And we are called to nurture, defend and share generously with others what we have received from our fathers and mothers in faith. We are all called to defend our freedom against those who would take away our right to live according to our beliefs.

Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame (one of the groups involved in the lawsuits), said it best. If we allow one government agency to define who we are and what our legitimate religious practices can be, what's to stop other government agencies from using the same tactics to impose on us equally or even more reprehensible actions in the name of political expediency or the common good?

We must speak out against the current administration's abuse of religious liberty. Let's not let this issue get lost in the political rhetoric of an extremely partisan election year. Too much is at stake.

Conway has served as consultant for mission advancement for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

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