05 October 2013

U.S. House of Reps to vote on religious liberty

I came across this morning the Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for the 44th World Day of Peace in which he wrote on the subject of religious freedom, both what it is and what it requires.

If you follow the work of John L. Allen, Jr., you already know how religious freedom is at stake throughout the world with the increasing persecution of Christians globally.  Yet even in the United States of America, there are signs of movement - slow and deliberate - toward an ever greater restriction on religious liberty that could well, if not halted, lead to a persecution of Christians.

Though it has largely been forgotten, such a state was once common for Catholics in the early days of the American Colonies (there is a reason why Maryland was established as a colony where Catholics could - mostly - practice their faith in freedom) and continued into the twentieth century.  The history of anti-Catholicism in the United States, from the days of the founding until now, are well explored in Anti-Catholicism in America: The Last Acceptable Prejudice by Mark S. Massa, S.J., which everyone should read.

Today, the religious liberty in the United States of America enters a new chapter with the government "shut down."  With the actions of the federal government in barricading national monuments and memorials that are otherwise wide open (which were never closed during previous government shut downs) and threatening visitors - even World War II veterans - with arrest, it is not out of the realm of possibility to think a priest would be arrested for celebrating Mass on a military base, as Steve Skojac pointed out yesterday at Catholic Vote:
But now there’s a story just coming to light that takes things even further. According the Archdiocese for Military Services, GS and contract priests (who are paid by the federal government as independent contractors in places where there aren’t enough active-duty priests to meet the needs of Catholics in military service) are being forbidden from celebrating Mass, even on a volunteer basis [more].
As one might expect, his claim was quickly challenged by those who said priests either would not or could be arrested for celebrating the Sacraments on military bases during the shut down, so he continued with his investigation and found the answer to be yes, according to the law itself:
So the short answer is yes, these priests can be arrested if they defy the furlough and say Mass on base. They can be charged, imprisoned, and fined. Will they be? Let’s hope not. But the threat alone is enough to cause sufficient concern [more].
Thankfully a few legislators picked up on this grave possibility and recognized the blatant threat to religious liberty it posed, and the likelihood that it could well happen under this administration (never before has it been a concern, but never before have the monuments and memorials been closed and barricaded during a shutdown, either, or sites that do not belong to the government).  Anything is possible, especially given this administration's history of changing even settled law to suit its own purpose. If the Administration is willing to arrest 90 year-old veterans who visit their memorial, it will certainly give serious thought to arresting priests who celebrate the Sacraments.

Today, Saturday, October 5th, the United States House of Representatives will vote to allow military chaplains - including Catholic priests - to minister to the members of the military on bases without threat of fines or imprisonment.  In effect, the House will vote to grant religious liberty to the members of the armed forces.

On this vote rests much of the future of the nation; today we will see if the House of Representatives values, honors, respects, and protects the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.

If the Representatives do and prove it by approving the legislation, we will see if the United States Senate values, honors, respects, and protects the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.

If the Senators do and prove it by approving the legislation, we see if the President of the United States values, honors, respects, and protects the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Ammendment.

If the bill fails in the House or in the Senate, or if it is vetoed by the President, the United States of America will not be the same country I left in the middle of July.

Please, contact your Representative and Senators immediately and urge them to vote "yes" on this important and historic vote.

Religious freedom is of vital importance to the health and stability of a nation because, as Benedict XVI said, it "expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood.  To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the grown of the authentic and lasting peace of the human family (emphasis in original).

What is more, "respect for essential elements of human dignity, such as the right to life and the right to religious freedom, is a condition for the moral legitimacy of ever social and legal norm."

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