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Freedom to act in accord with our convictions called ‘foundational principle’

Conscience rights under attack in areas of adoption and foster care, education, health care

Defending religious liberty is one of eight 2020 public policy priorities of the Missouri Catholic Conference, the public policy agency of the state’s bishops, which seeks through education and advocacy to create a culture that respects the sanctity and dignity of all human life.

Religious liberty also is one of seven areas highlighted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for action and involvement. Catholics serve in areas such as adoption and foster care, education and health care — areas where their conscience rights are under attack by a secular society that doesn’t recognize their contribution to the country’s political culture.

The issue is so important that the U.S. bishops established Religious Freedom Week, which takes place from June 22, the memorial of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, through June 29, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. Catholics across the country are asked to pray and act for the freedom to serve faithfully and with integrity.

Deacon Tyler McClay, executive director and general counsel of the Missouri Catholic Conference, warns people against undervaluing the importance of being vigilant in protecting religious liberty.

“If we want our bishops, pastors, and lay leaders to be free to instruct us on how to form our conscience in accord with our faith, and we want ourselves to be free to act in accord with our convictions publicly in our charity work, in our professional lives, and in our advocacy, we must stand up for religious liberty as a foundational principle,” McClay said.

The state’s bishops call government officials, legislators and all citizens to a respectful discourse about this challenge facing our state and nation. Of the need to defend religious liberty, they explain: “The Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council proclaimed that the freedom to exercise one’s religious faith without threat of coercion is grounded in the dignity of the human person and that no person should be forced to act in a manner ‘contrary to his conscience,’” (“Dignitatis Humanae,” paragraph 3).

The Missouri Catholic Conference opposes unjust discrimination against people of faith, including the targeting or registering of any particular faith, and supports religious liberty protections in all human rights laws. The right to religious freedom, the MCC states, “has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself” (“Dignitatis Humanae,” paragraph 2).

The U.S. bishops state that “religious freedom means that the Church has the space to carry out her mission to serve vulnerable people; it means that all people, of all faiths, are free to worship without fear of being attacked.”

The bishops point to several areas of concern. Examples include the Little Sisters of the Poor defending their community last month against attempts to force Catholic religious to violate their conscience. The Supreme Court of the United States heard oral argument May 6 in the case of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Additionally, the court heard oral arguments on May 11 in the consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel. These cases involve the right of Catholic schools, free of government interference, to choose teachers who will teach and model the Catholic faith.

The U.S. bishops also cite Christians who suffer persecution in places like China or the Central African Republic, and ask that we pray for them and for the conversion of their persecutors, and that we seek out ways to be in solidarity with them.

Religious Freedom Week 2020: For the Good of All

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops set June 22-29 as Religious Freedom Week, calling people to pray, reflect, and take action, both here in this country and abroad. Each day is set aside for a different aspect of religious liberty:

June 22: Freedom to Serve in Health Care

Pray that governments would respect the consciences of the Little Sisters of the Poor and all Christians who care for the sick and vulnerable.

Reflect: The Little Sisters’ work with elderly, low-income people is at risk because of lawsuits brought by the states of California and Pennsylvania against the expanded religious and moral exemption to the HHS mandate, and Catholic hospitals are constantly defending themselves against lawsuits and government orders that try to force them to participate in harmful procedures, such as sterilization, gender reassignment surgery, and even abortion.

Act: Text “FREEDOM” to 84576 to receive news updates and action alerts.

June 23: Respect for Houses of Worship

Photo Credits: Illustration by Abigail Witte
Pray that people of all faiths would be free to worship without fear of attacks and harassment.

Reflect: The rise in attacks on houses of worship is an attack on religious freedom. Gunmen have invaded churches, synagogues, and mosques and terrorized faith communities. Churches have been desecrated. Priests all over the world have been killed.

Act: Support increased funding for the FEMA Nonprofit Security Grant Program. This program provides grants to nonprofits, including houses of worship, to improve security.

June 24: Religious Minorities in China

Photo Credits: Illustration by Abigail Witte
Pray for the freedom of the Church in China, and that the rights of all religious minorities would be respected.

Reflect: Under the Chinese Communist Party, Chinese citizens have limited religious freedom. Since 2013, religious persecution has intensified under a government campaign for the “sinicization” of religion — an effort to have religions conform to government-sanctioned interpretations of Chinese culture. While the Vatican has reached a provisional agreement with China on the issue of episcopal appointments, reports of persecution by the Chinese government persist as underground churches are closed and their priests detained, crosses destroyed, Bibles confiscated, and children under 18 forbidden from attending Mass and receiving religious instruction.

Act: Solidarity with people of faith in other countries begins with learning about their struggles. Sign up for the USCCB’s religious liberty newsletter, First Freedom News at bit.ly/3eV83ZU.

June 25: Adoption and Foster Care

Photo Credits: Illustration by Abigail Witte
Pray that children waiting to be placed in a loving home and the caregivers who selflessly serve those children will find strength and support from the Church.

Reflect: While more children are waiting to be placed in families, faith-based child welfare providers are being targeted for closures because of their religious convictions. In Michigan, sexual orientation/gender identity (SOGI) activists have gone out of their way to challenge Catholic Charities, and Philadelphia Catholic Social Services is taking the struggle to continue to foster children to the Supreme Court

Act: The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act prevents faith-based child welfare service providers from being targeted by government discrimination. Contact your U.S. senators and representative and ask them to co-sponsor and support the act (see bit.ly/3dLHdD8).

June 26: Border Wall Dispute in the Diocese of Brownsville

Photo Credits: Illustration by Abigail Witte
Pray that the freedom of the local churches on the U.S. southern border will be respected.

Reflect: Efforts to construct a barrier on the southern border have met resistance from the Catholic Church in Brownsville. The proposed barrier would run through land owned by the diocese, and so the federal government would have to take the land in order to build the wall or fence. Freedom of the Church means that the Church cannot be impeded by the civil authorities from engaging in her mission. That mission includes ministry to those fleeing violence and poverty.

Act: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has provided persons of all faiths with protection against government intrusion. However, RFRA is under attack. The “Do No Harm Act” and the “Equality Act” weaken RFRA. Encourage your representative to protect all people of faith and do no harm to RFRA.

June 27: Catholic Schools

Photo Credits: Illustration by Abigail Witte
Pray that Catholic schools in our country would be free to teach the truth about God and His creation.

Reflect: Catholic schools need the space to operate in accordance with Catholic convictions.

Act: Text “FREEDOM” to 84576 to receive news updates and action alerts.

June 28: Central African Republic

Photo Credits: Illustration by Abigail Witte
Pray that God would show the people of the Central African Republic the way to peace and reconciliation.

Reflect: In the Central African Republic, 2.9 million of its 4.9 million people depend on humanitarian assistance. In 2012 a coalition of rebel groups, called the Seleka, from the predominantly Muslim North launched a rebellion that deposed then-president Francois Bozize in 2013. To counter the Seleka armed groups, non-Muslim rural communities strengthened traditional self-defense militias, called anti-balaka. Even though the conflict started primarily over political power and access to natural resources, the Seleka and anti-balaka forces resorted to banditry and attacks on unarmed Muslim and Christian civilians, making religious identity a driving force. During this civil war, Evangelical Pastor Nicolas Guerekoyame, Catholic Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga, and Imam Omar Kobine Layama led an interreligious movement to counter rising hatred with reconciliation, and violence with peace. They championed the preservation of their country’s diverse social fabric. Religious leaders continue the hard work of healing the trauma of war and rebuilding a new society.

Act: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services joined religious leaders on the Central African Interfaith Peacebuilding Partnership. They support trauma-healing programs, peacebuilding practices and other programs to help young people to learn skills, access small scale loans and start farms and businesses. The Church also provides humanitarian aid to the thousands of wounded and displaced victims. Donate to Catholic Relief Services at bit.ly/2XKGzAc.

June 29: Civilize It

Photo Credits: Illustration by Abigail Witte
Pray that God would give us the grace to remember the dignity of all and invite others to do the same.

Reflect: When personal attacks replace honest debate, no one wins. This kind of attack, no matter the reason, only serves to further divide our communities. What is needed is good, honest, civil dialogue.

Act: Join USCCB’s Civilize It Campaign to help promote dignity beyond the debate. Visit civilizeit.org.

Source: http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/ religious-freedom-week/index.cfm

Samples of religious freedom issues

• Protect religious student groups on campus by prohibiting Missouri colleges and universities from denying access to campus facilities and means of communication to student religious groups that require those seeking a leadership position in the group to sign a statement of belief. Many colleges and universities require student groups to sign non-discrimination policies stating that they will not discriminate against anyone seeking to participate in the group. These policies have been used on some campuses to exclude groups that hold a traditional view of marriage and human sexuality.

• Protect the Weldon Amendment, a federal law that prohibits discrimination by states against health insurance plans that do not cover abortion. Since 2014, the state of California had been forcing all employers, including religious employers, to provide for elective abortions in their health insurance plans.

• In some states, including Missouri, bills have been filed that would attempt to force priests to reveal things learned in the sacrament as a means of preventing child abuse. These bills, while perhaps well-intentioned, would undermine the confidentiality so necessary to the sacrament and infringe upon religious liberty.

• Prohibit a child-placing agency contracting with the state to provide foster care services from penalizing faith-based adoption and foster care agencies for their beliefs about the nature and purpose of marriage.

To stay informed on legislation followed by the Missouri Catholic Conference, visit bit.ly/2YgjtR8.

Supreme Court decision on Title VII

Later this month, the Supreme Court of the United States is expected to rule whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prohibition against discrimination “on the basis of sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

Although 25 states have laws protecting employees from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, there is no federal protection from such discrimination.

Religious organizations receive certain exemptions under Title VII, but the exemptions only apply to institutions whose “purpose and character are primarily religious.” They do not apply in cases involving individual business owners and hiring practices based on their personal religious beliefs.

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