Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Religious freedom

As we hear in tonight’s reading from the prophet Ezekiel, we are responsible for the behavior of our neighbors.  If we see our neighbor doing something which is evil, we must tell him or her that this action is evil.  If we neglect to tell him, we assume some responsibility for his behavior.  However, we cannot judge the person who exhibits an evil behavior, because we don’t know their motive.  Only God can judge people.  The old adage applies:  hate the sin, love the sinner.
Today, our religious freedom is under attack from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate.  This mandate requires that virtually all organizations pay for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs in their health insurance.  The only exceptions are those religious organizations which employ and serve those of the same faith.  This mandate directly challenges our Church’s long standing opposition to contraception and abortion.  Many charities, hospitals, and universities will be forced to either violate their conscience or to likely close their doors if this mandate isn’t changed. 
This is an issue of religious freedom.  The question simply is: ”Does our government have a right to mandate a religious organization to take an action which is directly against its long established beliefs?  As a religious people, we have a responsibility to speak out and warn someone when they are doing something evil.  Also, as a religious people, we cannot participate in evil by paying for it or in some other way encouraging it.  For, if we do this, we clearly assume some responsibility for that evil.  
The contraceptive mandate reminds me of an issue which our nation faced during prior wars regarding young men who were drafted.  That issue involved the right of those who were morally opposed to the war; known as conscientious objectors, to refuse military service.  While it certainly was in the best interest of the country to have all young men available for the draft, our nation decided, in the interest of religious freedom, to allow those who were morally opposed to war to provide some service to the country which was not related to the war. 
While this may not be the best analogy, because providing free contraceptives certainly cannot be seen as important to our nation as winning a just war, it does illustrate that our nation has always realized the importance of following one’s conscience.  In fact, while I was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, they emphasized to us that we must not follow an order which our conscience told us was not moral.  However, they were also quick to tell us that we must be willing to accept the consequences of not following that order. 
Recently, we celebrated the feast of St. John the Baptist.  John’s courage in upholding the truth about marriage, and his subsequent beheading as a result, challenges us in a time when it is not popular to speak the truth or live by the truth. Both he and St. Thomas More remind us that just because certain behavior is enshrined in the law of the land does not mean that is morally right. St. John the Baptist and St Thomas More, pray for our country, for our Church, and for each of us that we properly form and bravely follow our conscience.