12 October 2013

Senate passes and strengthens resolution protecting religious freedom of Catholic priests

The United States Senate voted on Friday to allow priests contracted with the United States military to celebrate the Sacraments on military bases during the partial government shutdown without fear of fines or imprisonment.  The vote, much to my surprise, passed without objection and strengthened the the resolution of the United States House of Representatives:
The Senate measure, approved by voice vote, includes minor changes by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., who sought to clarify the House-passed bill. Levin added provisions stating that the availability of religious services and clergy were "important to the morale and well-being of many members of the armed forces and their families."
He also included a provision that said it was Congress' hope that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel determines "that contractor clergy provide necessary support to military personnel and would therefore be covered under the appropriations made available" under a law that pays the troops despite the shutdown.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., welcomed the vote, saying on Friday that "all service members should have the opportunity to worship, and no one should make that more difficult" [more].
This is excellent news and is an encouraging sign in the face of mounting threats to the freedom of religion in the United States.

However, one troubling situation remains in a comment made by the Associated Press' Donna Cassata in the above cited article:
Democrats repeatedly have argued that if House Republicans would allow a vote on a Senate-passed bill to reopen the government, suspension of military death benefits and any obstacles for military chaplains would be resolved.
While this claim may well be true, what it ignores is the simple that never before have Catholic priests - or other chaplains - been so threatened during a partial government shutdown.  As such, this is not simply - regardless of the spin - about a Republican refusal to fully fund the government; it is much deeper and more complicated than that and suggests a tightening of the governmental arm on the American people, which is not simply a grave threat to religious liberty but to the general liberty once enjoyed in the United States of America.

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