From the Archbishop of San Francisco’s opinion piece in today’s edition of The San Francisco Chronicle:
“It’s about the tea,” British newspapers proclaimed in 1774 as Parliament passed a bill to close Boston Harbor until the citizens of Massachusetts reimbursed the East India Company for the tea that had been thrown into the bay by American patriots. “It’s all about the tea.”
Of course it wasn’t about the tea at all. It was about a fundamental diminishment of liberty that had led the American colonists to refuse to comply with a law that breached the freedom which was theirs by right.
I thought of this episode from our nation’s history during the debate that we have been having across the United States during the past two weeks about the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ newly imposed mandate on health care for religious hospitals, universities and charitable services. It has become commonplace to dismiss the questions that have arisen as merely revolving around contraception. In the process, immensely deep questions of fundamental liberty are being shoved aside.
Embedded in the seemingly innocuous new federal regulations pertaining to contraception is a radically new and sharply diminished approach to how government will define religious liberty in the future. Only those religious institutions that center directly upon the inculcation of faith, and which employ and serve predominantly members of that faith, are to be seen as fully religious institutions. Other religious institutions, which always in the past have been seen as religious employers by the federal government, are now labeled only marginally religious and given a sharply lesser degree of religious freedom.
The consequences for the religious landscape of our nation, and the architecture of religious liberty in the United States, are enormous and immensely troubling. It is a basic tenet not only of Catholic faith, but of most religious communities, that religiously organized service to the poor, the sick, the marginalized and the outcast is to be undertaken precisely as an act of faith. This religious mandate to serve those in need, regardless of the religious beliefs of those who are served, has been the foundation for the only real safety net that existed during most of our nation’s history.
Do read the entire column, which has a powerful anecdate about and quote by President Thomas Jefferson.
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