Faithful called on to continue defense of religious liberty

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Red, white and blue greeted St. Louis Catholics on the front steps at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis a little before the noon hour on July 2.

On an unusually pleasant St. Louis summer day, the Stars and Stripes waved in the wind, with members of LIFE Runners holding the flag, as Church-goers signed a banner that read "Defend Religious Liberty."

Nearby, resplendent in red T-shirts bearing the message "I Stand With the Catholic Church," Archdiocese of St. Louis communications staffers handed out pamphlets titled "Rosary Crusade For Religious Freedom" with the Statue of Liberty superimposed on an image of the banner.

Sir Knight Leslie Farr, a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of St. Peter Claver, called it a "festive atmosphere."

Indeed, it was.

The archdiocese celebrated its third Fortnight for Freedom Mass on this day, days after two courtroom victories and on the eve of country's birthday.

"It's a great week for people of all faiths," said Tom Buckley, the archdiocese general counsel.


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The victories came in court decisions Monday. In the morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that closely-held for-profit companies Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods did not have to comply with the U.S.
Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate on health care insurance coverage in the Affordable Care Act, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The HHS provision directed that employers, including many religious institutions, provide free coverage of contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations, even if those things go against their moral standing. Employers were threatened with hefty fines for failing to comply.

The Supreme Court ruling took only for-profit companies into account, but the dominoes began to fall favorably for non-profits in courtrooms across the land later in the day. Locally, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Judge John A. Ross granted a preliminary injunction for the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Catholic Charities of St. Louis in their suit challenging the HHS mandate.

He wrote that they "are likely to succeed on their RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) claim. ... The Court finds it in the public interest to preserve the status quo and enjoin enforcement of the mandate."

The decisions didn't exactly prompt Catholics and people of other faiths to dance in the streets, but they were cause for celebration, especially with the Fortnight for Freedom Mass on tap.

"The timing couldn't have been better for this," Fred Denny said outside the new cathedral after Mass. The Christ the King parishioner attended the Mass with his wife, Rita. "This is really great."

The Catholic Church has been observing the Fortnight for Freedom in the U.S. for three years running in response to the HHS mandate. Critics contend that the Church's stand, as well as other religions, amounts to an attack on women's health, but the Church's protestation always has been about religious liberty as set forth in the U.S. Constitution.

The primary point is that business owners should not be forced to provide coverage that is against their religious beliefs. The hat trick of morally objectionable coverage is contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization, but, as Archbishop Robert J. Carlson noted in the Fortnight Mass homily, the American media rarely gets beyond the word "contraception" and eliminates the last two.

In his homily, Archbishop Carlson mentioned sterilization first and contraceptives last. But even with this verbal sleight of hand, he noted that Americans must be on guard for further intrusions into their religious liberty.

Archbishop Carlson acknowledged "some satisfaction" with the dual victories this week, but "the truth is we need to protect religious freedom today more than ever," he said, adding that the Catholic Church long has called for, and provided, healthcare.

However, the Church often seems to be under attack, not only with the HHS mandate but also with the revocation of licenses of Catholic foster care and adoption agencies because "they refuse to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite sex couples who live together," Archbishop Carlson said.

He quoted St. Paul and Pope Francis in regard to freedom, but also referenced the Declaration of Independence, which "recognizes freedom as a gift from God and calls it an 'inalienable right.'"

It's a right that must be defended, now with the HHS mandate — Archbishop Carlson called it "the narrowest protection of religious freedom ever seen in federal policy"— but also in the future.

Buckley, the general counsel, noted that we must "always be vigilant, absolutely. ... These are the times in which we find themselves."

Archbishop Carlson said as much in closing his homily.

"We cannot accept the culture's way of thinking as it is self-focused, truth is whatever you believe and often anti-Catholic and anti-human," he said. "We need to pray — and ask the question of our culture — Does this work what you are proposing in the shadow of heaven?" 



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