The area parishes of Charlottesville gathered this past Sunday evening at the First Amendment Monument Free Speech Wall for a prayer service for the Fortnight of Freedom. We honored to have Fr. Stephen Alcott, O.P., to lead us in the Prayer of Protection of Religious Liberty and the Litany for Liberty.
Maddie Pericak is a talented artist who created a mural on the Free Speech wall to represent religious liberty. The mural included images of St. Thomas More, the patron saint of religious liberty, the crosses at calvary, and mother earth.
Following is a stop-motion You Tube video of the making of the mural:
Nancy Brinkac also read the statement from Bishop Francis Dilorenzo that was in the Richmond Times Dispatch regarding issues about religious liberty. It was very appropriate to read this in the very place where Thomas Jefferson and James Madison introduced the ideas of religious liberty to Virginia and later America. Following is the statement from Bishop Dilorenzo read at the prayer service:
“Imagine that you lived in a country where the government prohibited your church and its ministries from practicing the tenets of your faith. As a Catholic bishop — serving in the commonwealth where almost 250 years ago Virginians Thomas Jefferson and James Madison recognized religion as a natural right not to be infringed upon by the government — I find this threat to be almost unimaginable.
As a native Pennsylvanian, born in the city where patriots forged a nation enshrining religious liberty as the first among the citizens’ rights, to me the denial of that freedom is a foreign concept. So I am perplexed, and indeed dismayed, when I recognize the reality we face today: The religious liberty that rightfully belongs to the Catholic Church I love and serve — and to all people of all faiths — is being threatened by the same government that was founded to guarantee it.
The issue is a recent mandate by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that requires almost all private health plans nationwide to cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilizations. The mandate includes only a narrow and arbitrary exemption for “religious employers.” To qualify, employers must (1) have the narrow tax-exempt status granted to “houses of worship;” (2) teach religion as their purpose; (3) hire primarily people who share their religious tenets; and (4) serve primarily people who share those religious tenets.
The HHS mandate has become a divisive and often mischaracterized issue. From my perspective, it is unprecedented and nothing short of intrusive, coercive and selective.
The mandate is intrusive because it presumes to tell us what is and is not a religious ministry. It says that houses of worship are “in,” but charities, hospitals, and universities are “out.” But it is not the role of government to create two camps — those who are deemed “religious enough” to get a “pass” and others who must instead cast their religion aside because of the ways they serve the broader community. In fact, I even wonder which of the two designations our government would assign to Jesus and his disciples.
The mandate is coercive because it seeks to force many institutions to use their own money to provide drugs and procedures that are contrary to their foundational teachings on life, love and family. I fully recognize that the Catholic Church’s beliefs on contraception are not shared by all. But the issue is not whether our beliefs are popular. Rather, the issue is whether we are allowed to spend our own money in ways that are consistent with what we profess, or whether we are instead forced to give up our religion when we offer health plans.
The mandate is selective because it falls way short of religious liberty for all — all employers, insurers and individuals whose deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs make them unwilling to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilizations. The government has allowed members of some faiths, such as the Amish and members of Medi-Share, a program of Christian Care Ministry, to opt out of the Affordable Care Act entirely. That their religious beliefs are respected gives me hope that religious freedom is still alive; that the beliefs of many others are being trampled makes me wonder how much longer this first freedom will survive…
…The fact remains: When it comes to a religious exemption, some are “in” and others are “out.” Of those who are “out,” some will await what additional scraps of religious liberty may be salvaged if the yet-to-be-created “accommodation” provides more than what has been announced.
An essential question also remains: Will the religious liberty that is our right and our heritage be reduced to narrow exemptions and meaningless “accommodations”? Not if we unite around the foundational principles that Jefferson, Madison and many others knew would serve our country well.” (Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, Richmond Times Dispatch, April 9, 2012)
We ended our prayer service with the crowd singing America the Beautiful, and then everyone was invited to write messages or artworks on the wall for religious liberty. I hope that these prayers and messages help to keep our religious liberty for all faiths in this country we all love.
The US Bishops came out with an important statement after the recent (5-4) decision by the US Supreme Court to move forward with the Affordable Healthcare Act. The US Bishops still want to see changes made to improve the act, and will be moving forward with lawsuit against the HHS Mandate. Following is the link to the press release from US Bishops: Bishops Renew Plea to Congress and Administration to Repair the Affordable Healthcare Act.
Fortnight for Freedom (USCCB)
First Amendment Monument–Charlottesville, Virginia