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Religious freedom & the U.S. Catholic bishops

Today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty released a statement, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, calling on Catholics and others to resist what the bishops characterize as unprecedented threats to religious freedom. The statement calls for a national campaign of political and legal resistance. It also urges Catholics to participate in a Fortnight for Freedom leading up to this years Fourth of July holiday, during which they are asked to study, pray, and protest against the supposed efforts of government to curtail the free exercise of religion. Among the bishops concerns are the recent HHS contraception mandate, harsh immigration laws, the denial of federal funding to Catholic social-service agencies, and the closing of Catholic adoption services because of the churchs refusal to place children with gay parents.The bishops are right to call for vigilance on behalf of religious liberty. There are influential currents of opinion today that advocate restricting the presence of religion in public life and would reduce religious liberty to the freedom of individuals or congregations to worship as they please. That is not the American way. There should be considerable room for government to cooperate with religious groups as with other non-governmental bodies in serving the common good. Unfortunately, the argument made by the bishops as well as their proposed tactics for public action undermine their case. Worse, the tenor of the bishops statement runs the risk of making this into a partisan issue during a presidential election in which the leaders of one party have made outlandish claims about a war on religion or a war against the Catholic Church.The USCCBs statement vastly exaggerates the extent to which American freedoms of all sorts and of religious freedom in particular are threatened. Church-state relations are complicated, requiring the careful weighing of competing moral claims. The USCCBs statement fails to acknowledge that fact. Worse, strangely absent from the list of examples provided by the bishops is the best-documented case of growing hostility to religious presence in the United States: hostility to Islam. Unless the bishops correct that oversight, their statement will only feed the impression that this campaign for religious freedom has been politically tailored. This silence is especially striking in view of the parallels between anti-Muslim sentiment today and the prejudice encountered by Catholic immigrants in the nineteenth century. If religious freedom becomes a partisan issue, its future is sure to grow dimmer, not brighter. Religious liberty, absolutely. Partisan politics, no.


Commenting Guidelines

Will the bishops now support the removal of the Mt. Graham Observatory? Here we have a problem -- where Catholics -- even the Vatican -- has worked against religious liberty of Apaches (not only by using their holy ground against their wishes, but by making it so many Apaches are arrested for going to their holy site without "permits.). What we have is, imo, an "ad hoc" committee which doesn't have experts on the field of religion or religious liberty, a committee which seems to know little to nothing about actual problems of religious liberty in US history, and one which makes exaggerated claims due to this ignorance. And yes, it reads this is being done for partisanship when one looks at who is on the committee -- all kinds of GOP politicians -- while one sees who is not on it - experts on the field of religious liberty!

When David Gibson posted a piece at dotCommonweal about a recent Supreme Court decision, he used the headline "Religions Get to be Jerks."The Catholic bishops in the United States want to be jerks in the name of their understanding of freedom of religion.The Catholic bishops are too stubborn to change any of the ridiculous teachings of the Roman Catholic Church such as the church's objection to artificial contraception, the church's objection to legalized abortion in the first trimester, and the church's objection to same-sex marriage. I think these and other church teachings should be changed. So I have no sympathy for the Catholic bishops' campaign regarding their understanding of freedom of religion.

I'm trying to imagine how this plays out on the parish level. I think a lot of pastors will be reluctant to conduct the kind of campaign the bishops call for because they'll fear parishioners will perceive it as politically partisan. Some parishioners will urge their pastor to hold "Fortnight for Freedom" events - the Republican voters, most likely - and others, the Democrats, will be ready to walk out of church if too much is made of it during a presidential election year. The pastors are in a difficult spot.

"Worse, the tenor of the bishops statement runs the risk of making this into a partisan issue during a presidential election in which the leaders of one party have made outlandish claims about a war on religion or a war against the Catholic Church."Let's see:1. Blame the bishops? Check.2. Blame the GOP? Check.3. Ignore the Obama administration's actions with respect to religious liberties such as the removal of funding for the DC School Vouchers, the rejection of the CRS grant, the Hosanna-Tabor decision, the HHS Mandate? Check.Who's playing partisan politics again?

This so-called "religious liberty" campaign by Catholic hierarchs was something that was thought up by the political consultants they hired with all that unaccountable money they have salted away in their investment portfolios. Obviously, the "religious liberty" coded label test marketed well among a broad group of Catholics. However, the hierarchs and their political consultants failed to remember that most Catholics in this country do know how to read and write. We know when we being sold a bill of goods.The hierarchs also forgot that there are other Constitutional amendments besides the religious liberty guarantees in the First Amendment that must be balanced with other competing rights: Such as, the equal protection and due process guarantees of the 14th Amendment. The hierarchs should stick to the politics of the all-male, feudal oligarchy variety at which they are particularly adept and leave the civil politics to us folks in the pews.

Frankly, after reading the bishops statement I didnt see any partisan politics. But, now through the commonweal political lens, all is clear.

ThomasIn reality, it doesn't require changing of religious beliefs, but basic recognition of Catholic tradition in engaging political entities which do not agree with Catholic beliefs. The Church has a long tradition of working with and even giving monetary support to those who disagree with its teachings. The Church, in the states, have had all kinds of cooperation with rules similar to the HHS. The problem is that basic moral categories are out, and remote cooperation is being treated as if one is being forced to act in a certain way. The talk is about how Catholics can't use contraceptives - but then switches to discussion of buying insurance which pays for contraceptives. That's a big bait and switch -- treating as if the first is being done and debating policies as if such force is being done, while all that is being done is paying for insurance the kind of which rich Catholics pay for already with no demands of action. As I have pointed out before, if the bishops really wanted us to believe that Catholic teaching is more than "don't use contraceptives" but "you can't even have remote material cooperation with insurance that pays for contraceptives" they better FIRST make demands on all Catholics who already have such insurance (rich people who have insurance). That this isn't done says a great deal.

Paul Moses hits it on the mark. He worries for the Church that Democrats will walk away. I am pleased for the sake of the President's re-election campaign that the "Fortnight for Freedom" is sure be a stage and spotlight for the most unattractive elements of right-wing Catholics. One can only smile at pastors unsuccessfully trying to control events that morph into questions of the President's birth certificate, unkind words toward Trayvon and just for history's sake, they can bring back their dislike for Captain Dreyfus.

The American Catholic Bishops: you never know where their fear will lead them next.

Re: "the denial of federal funding to Catholic social-service agencies, and the closing of Catholic adoption services because of the churchs refusal to place children with gay parents..."Apparently, bishops have not read the March 23, 2012 federal court decision of ACLU-MA v Sebelius on the government's violation of the Establishment Clause by awarding HHS contracts to the USCCB for those trafficked for prostitution:"It is therefore ADJUDGED and DECLARED that the government defendants violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, insofar as they delegated authority to a religious organization to impose religiously based restrictions on the expenditure of taxpayer funds, and thereby impliedly endorsed the religious beliefs of the USCCB and the Catholic Church."

Freedom of Religion derives from the right of conscience. If the Church wants to interfere with its employees' right to conscientious access to contraception i8n the name of its own right of conscience, it would seem to me that our American (and Aquinian) support of the supremacy of [well-formed, or not well-formed, for that matter] personal or individual conscience would trump collective conscience in a free society, (That's our problem with Communism, isn't it?)I realize this plays havoc with the whole Pro-Choice debate, but I can't see the Church claiming an institutional prerogative to freedom of conscience without conceding the right of individuals to as strong a prerogative -- leading naturally to abortion on demand, if citizens, as Churches believe things that allow harmful consequences to third parties, e.g., the unborn or employees.

Apart from the problems with the USCCB document cited in the Commonweal editorial, another problem is the call for civil disobedience. Lawyers say you should know the answer to a question before you ask it in the courtroom, and similarly I think the bishops need to know how such a call would play out before making it. In reality, a lot of Catholics are not going to buy into their arguments, no matter how drastically it is cast. So if you call for civil disobedience and no one obeys, you look sort of foolish. But above all, what would civil disobedience mean in this case? The ones affected are not churches or the dioceses or the bishops. And bishops in the main don't control the Catholic institutions that would be potentially affected, like hospitals and universities -- and those institutions don't seem inclined to agree with the bishops on the threat posed, nor are they likely to walk out on patients and students in an act of civil disobedience. Also, those institutions won't have anything to do with the contraception coverage under the accommodation, so what would they actually do in order to show civil disobedience? I just can't picture what this looks like.

There is serious need for an organized lay effort to counter the voice of the bishops who presume to speak for "the church". The U. S. laity's well-documented position on contraception expresses the sensus fidei of the People of God. I would find it hard to charge the battlements as the bishops are calling the faithful to do over this particular issue!! Now, if there was a strong call to laity to take to the streets in opposition to Republican efforts to reduce or even do away with all social supports for the poor, or for us to demand an end to the Afghanistan war, or call for an end to discrimination of all kinds, I would have to listen.

Kurt, I believe that this is what some of the bishops want in their heart of hearts, that should pastors try to facilitate a Fortnight of Prayer or other such exercise, that Democratic Catholics will walk out of Church. I think some bishops and conservative Catholic lay people actually want liberal Catholics to leave the Church, that only the most rigid adherents of some aspects of Catholic teaching will remain, and the "faithful remnant" will be preserved/restored. They can't outright order them to leave, but they can make the atmosphere so stifling and uncomfortable for them that they will get the hint and leave, which will be to the grave detriment of the People of God in the US. The bishops should be careful what they wish for, they may just get it.

I agree that the timing of the Bishop's Ad Hoc Committee statement is unfortunate. As far as I can tell from reading their statement, they have only two complaints at the Federal level: (1) the contraception mandate and (2) the fact that specifications for anti-human trafficking contracts require flexibility in referring for contraception or abortion services, when required. The remainder of the complaints were against actions taken at state or municipal levels. But beginning a campaign such as this in the summer of the Presidential election season makes it appear as a broad attack against the incumbent Presidential administration regarding a long list of grievances, for which the administration is only partially responsible.Addressing the only two Federal issues, the contraception mandate has been argued extensively. I won't add anything else, at this point. The specification relating to the anti-human trafficking contracts strike me as being entirely reasonable. A great many human trafficking cases involve what's known as the "sex trade." This brings up issues such as exposure to STDs, pregnancy prevention, pregnancies resulting from rape, and other issues. When the Federal government invites bids for contracts to provide services or products, there are always specifications -- ranging from a few specifications to literally thousands. If they wanted a new fighter plane, it would have to be able to fly so fast and fly so high and fly for so long. If they wanted a clinical trial to test a new drug, the institution would have to meet requirements for patient accrual and monitoring; if they wanted a defense contractor to protect a foreign embassy, the contractor would have to provide suitable personnel, weapons, and a willingness and capability to use deadly force in a controlled fashion.The point is that a contract to provide services to victims of human trafficking requires the contractor to deal with issues such as STD prevention, pregnancy prevention, and rape-related pregnancies. If a potential contractor isn't prepared to use the full range of available tools to deal with these serious problems, then the solution is simply not to bid for the contract.- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

By lumping everything some municipal, state or federal agency may have done that conflicts with how they want things done, the bishops make it sound if they're in a head-to-head fight with the Obama administration. How convenient for the Republican party in this election year. The last Bush administration did everything humanly possible to woo Church officials, from soliciting their opinions on policy issues to paying them large sums of patronage money and calling it support for "faith-based initiatives." Now, we see how well it worked. I'm afraid it's as simple as that. They've been had.

Thank you, Commonweal, for your thoughtfulness on this topic. And thanks to those who have contributed additional insights on this blog. This has troubled me for several weeks. Yes, the Obama administration made serious mistakes and missteps in its first ruling on coverage for contraception. It then correctly changed its position to justly and correctly accommodate the views and religious freedom of the Church. Yet, the bishops refuse to accept that, but have yet to make any reasonable argument that the revised provisions actually do impinge on their religious freedom, and persist in this new "campaign." What adds to my serious doubt on their actions is the fact that similar benefits were already required in, I believe, 28 states, yet I do not recall any similar Church protest against those rules. Why, then, have the bishops come close to derailing the initial passage of health care reform, and continue to fight its implementation? This is the same U.S. Catholic Church that HAD favored health care reform for almost a century, yet by their stance they help those who would use fear and distortion to help overturn that legislative achievement. They are losing what once was a strong position of moral leadership.

Thank you so much. I was appalled when I read about the bishops' statement this morning. Thank you for your quick response. I sent it to all my colleagues with a note, that as an RC, I wanted people to know that the bishops do not represent the views of all or even of most Catholics. What are these bishops thinking of to take a blatantly partisan stance in the midst of an election year.

We should thank the editors of Commonweal for standing up to the bishops. The bishops' position appears to be that of partisan Republicans, and dare I say, perhaps, racist. Sadly, the bishops refuse to recognize that the Church is all of us---the community of believers. Instead they prefer to dictate to the laity, and never listen to the laity. I have seen nothing anti-Catholic, or even anti-religion, in the Obama Administration's policies. Most Catholic women ignore the bishops heavy-handed posturing on abortion and contraceptives. Why don't the bishops speak out against unnecessary, unjust wars, the torture of prisoners, , income inequality, the erosion of our rights as U.S. citizens under the so-called "Patriot Act", and the need for a nuclear weapons-free world?

"Authority has simply been abused for too long in the Catholic Church and for many people it just becomes utterly stupid and intolerable to have to put up with the kind of jackassing around that is imposed in God's name. It is an insult to God Himself and in the end it can only discredit all idea of authority and obedience. There comes a time when they simply forfeit their right to be listen to" ~ Thomas Merton, 1/19/67 (from a letter to W. H. Ferry)

It was different in days of yore.A great book, imho, is The Irish Americans, by Jay P. Dolan. Try the search term "bishops" to see what it was like when there were bishops and priests who fought for social justice, labor unions, etc.

I am old enough to remember a time when the word "conservative" carried with it a great of well deserved admiration bordering on genuine affection and gratitude. It seemed a very challenging and worthy goal. Whether that memory is largely a result of my perceptions or reality at that time I obviously cannot say with any certainity. My remarks carry my recognition of that fact.Conservatism found neither unbearable fear nor condemnation in the realities of ignorance. It was quite simply an understandable challenge requiring patience and useful advice served in gratitude to those who had wisely assisted them out of theirs. Whether the desired goal was reached or not was not the sole issue. There was the responsiblity to repay the gifts they had received. The ones that helped them find awe in their lives.What it did not tolerate well was contrived ignorance. As an example, I propose the Pope's recent use of the word "schizophrenia" in an attempt, I suppose, to dramatize what he perceived as confusion. I feel quite comfortable assuming the Pope has more than adequate access to individuals who can quite easily and clearly define for him the significant difference between the confusion resulting from human limitations and a tragic illness.So many of those who now cleverly find shelter in notions we rightly ascribe to "conservatism" quite simply do not grasp the level of responsibilty that term carries.I am unable to convince myself that an ability to read another's "mind" would a move us forward. Best I can tell thoughts can not only move quickly they can change direction quickly. But I am certain that until that time arrives words matter. Conservatism requires one accept the reality of the fact the more one learns the less one knows. Otherwise one can simply assume they have nothing left to learn. That ain't conservative. It is boring.

Both the editors and many of the commenters here seem to be living in the 1950's. Anybody who lives in the real world (running a school, or working in health care) knows that ever growing pressure of powerful faceless politiicized bureaucracies, the pressure of suffocating regulations etc. I personally know at least two deans of small Catholic colleges who despair that in a few years they will be forced to choose between shutting down and having their consciences raped by HHS or similar organizations.But no, religious freedom is not at risk, even less individual freedoms in general. The problem is that the bishops are politically partisan. The US bishops! The same organization that for decades has consistently advocated for policies in almost perfect alignment with the Democratic party, such as public healthcare, extended welfare services, free education and so on.Oh well. I don't know. What seems obvious is that the editor of Commonweals are much more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the administration (who would NEVER violate anybody's conscience to impose an ideological agenda) than to our bishops (who CANNOT be seriously thinking that religious freedom is at risk, and who deep down must actually motivated by by political partisanship).As Jsesus said "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Treasure, of course does not just means money, but also one's cherished political allegiances.

Editors: thank you for a courageous editorial expressing so well what many Of us Catholics think.

"Worse, the tenor of the bishops statement runs the risk of making this into a partisan issue during a presidential election in which the leaders of one party have made outlandish claims about a 'war on religion or a war against the Catholic Church.'"Hmmm, since you agree with so much of what the Bishops say, wouldn't your role include ensuring that their statement is not misinterpreted as simply a "partisan issue during a presidential election" and, in penning this editorial, haven't you failed?

Gee, and here I thought it was the US bishops who are behaving as if it were the 1950's, with the "new" instructions on the Mass, and their willingness to squelch opposing opinions on matters of doubt with ecclesiastical punishments. I would caution against using terms like "conscience rape" when it comes to officials at Catholic universities, because for one, it demeans the actuality of the evil of physical rape, and two, none of these regulations (at least in the mandate, anyway) forces Catholics to abandon their beliefs or participate in actions that contravene their beliefs. In other words, Catholic women are not being forced to take artificial birth control against their will, and priests are not forced to marry gay couples in their churches. Catholic officials who find themselves in situations where they might have to indirectly countenance behaviors that go against their faith are not personally having their consciences manipulated; they still have free will and the ability to exercise it, though that might require making some sad decisions for themselves personally. It's overblown rhetoric like this that is obscuring the attempt to balance one group's rights against another's, and ultimately poisons the well of both civil and religious discourse, and it is a shame that it is deployed to the extent that it is. Your rights might be being infringed upon, but to use rhetoric that deploys the image of forcible rape is both exagggerated and irresponsible.

Not having a place for Islam in this document was a mistake, but why is it a mistake that reveals partisanship? I just don't see it, especially in the context of the document highlighting the following specific issues:1. HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. Lots of liberal Catholics, including the editors of this magazine, supported the general thrust of this concern.2. State immigration laws. A classic liberal concern on the part of the Bishops here--one from which many conservative Catholics dissent.3. Altering Church structure and governance. Not clearly a liberal or conservative concern.4. Christian students on campus. Not clearly a liberal or conservative concern.5. Catholic foster care and adoption services. Arguably a conservative concern because it involves being against gay adoption, but the consequences of the ending of the ministry affect vulnerable children in a way which should disturb liberals as well.6. Discrimination against small church congregations. Not obviously a liberal or conservative concern, but, interestingly, a concern that the Catholic Church doesn't have. So they whiffed on Islam, but its not as if they are being totally self-obsessed either.7. Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services. This also angered both liberals and conservatives, and rightly so--it is not obviously a liberal or conservative concern.The last line of this blog post is "partisan politics, no"...agreed. And I agree that at that the Bishops have, at times, too closely identified themselves with the Republican party (and by that I certainly do not mean that they should identify closely with Democrats!), but can folks help me see how THIS particular document is an example of that? I'm just not seeing it.

I have a post up reflecting on the bishops' statement and Commonweal's response and how this all really shows that Richard John Neuhaus is alive and well (for better and for worse).

Too much of this USCCB document reads like a call for some sort of crusade. Crusades are hard to square with the Gospel. Recently I've come across Jean Vanier's "Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John." The gap between Vanier and this document is enormous. Jesus repeatedly rejected seizing earthly control. Crusades seek to gain such control.

Without the slightest hint of irony, the bishops' statement quotes this paragraph from Benedict XVI's Ad limina address to them on January 19, 2012:"Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis--vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church's participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society."Engaged, articulate, well-formed, courageous men and women for Christ when dealing with the vicissitudes of American public policy.But if desirous of applying those same qualities to the guidance of a Church they both love and fear for, then sheep.

I pray that the tax exempt status of the Church be challenged and hopefully removed. Then we'll see how the bishops will decry "the attacks on religious liberty." On another note, they didn't seem to respond as quickly to the issues of war, our invasion of Iraq. They were silent when John Paul II gave fair warning. They took their good ol' time when it came to the sexual abuse crisis. Some still are reluctant to cooperate with the civil authorities. When it comes to the bedroom, they want to get right in there and dictate what is right and what is wrong. Celibates, adolescents indeed.

JJm Jenkins:Re: follow-up to your comment:"This so-called religious liberty campaign by Catholic hierarchs was something that was thought up by the political consultants they hired with all that unaccountable money they have salted away in their investment portfolios."At the U.S. bishops meeting last November the bishops overwhelmingly approved a 3% increase of diocesan funds to the USCCB. As one bishop in the audience noted the funds were needed for this new venture, namely, the ad hoc committee for religious liberty.

This is clearly the irony of Ironies. The RCC which from Augustine to the 20th century have denied others freedom of religion. The statement of Pius IX that "error has no rights" says it all. The bishops were aware of their lack of objectivity which compelled them to include other issues, like the seriously important one of services to immigrants. The other issues were marginal while the bishops main goal of attacking HHS recurs again and again. How some do not see this here is mysterious and baffling. Originally, I was looking for analternative to Obama. But the bishops, along with others on the far right have made Obama an easy choice. I imagine that the leadership in Washington and the democratic party are thanking God for this killer statement for the Republican party from the bishops. This is a greater gift than any super pac can produce. As Dolan prophesied, he has "helped his opponent." Immeasurably. Fr. Richard O'Brien has accurately called the present crop of bishops the worst in American history. Damnably true. From their sheepish behavior in 2002, to their being called "worst than the Mafia" by a distinguished Catholic governor they appointed to the review board, to their continual proclivity towards political rather than pastoral behavior. This is a sorry, dishonorable bunch. And no contrived bombastic laughter by Tim Dolan can cover up this baldly, political group. A bunch of miscreants giving Catholics terrible witness.

Commonweal's point about Islam is vital. I highlight and expand on it here:

Tony Green --YOu've made an important point: Respect for the (mistaken) consciences of others is a prerequisite in a democracy. I thought that point was settled by Vatican II. But the bishops apparently haven't put one and one together -- if you are required to respect my conscience, I am going to have to respect yours. The solutions to the inevitable problems following from this can only be persuasion and action at the ballot box, not hysterical, exaggerated accusations of dirty pool.Yes, there are some people who would do away with all religions. But they are few, unorganized, ad rarely have any political clout. So talk of "a religious war" is nonsense, even though a couple of instances the bishops mention should be protested as unAmerican.

Once again, as Jo McGowan so pointedly said, "the church has made a spectacle of itself," thanks to the USCCB. As though the sexual abuse crisis weren't enough. I for one am quite sick of them dishonoring my Church.

Fascinating! Read how Cardinal Cushing in Boston worked for the passage of MA legislation authorizing contraception, and worked behind the scenes with Planned Parenthood to repeal the legislative ban.Catholics and Contraception: Boston, 1965"...Nearly 50 years ago, as a state representative from Brookline, Mass., Dukakis was part of a compromise between opponents and proponents of contraception, a compromise that involved coordination between Planned Parenthood and the church that would be unthinkable now. Dukakis remains convinced that contraception became legal in Massachusetts only with the assistance of the local Catholic leadership....Why did the cardinal remain silent (in an earlier reform effort)? Certainly, he had privately endorsed the repeal effort following his WEEI statement in 1963. With his blessing, a series of meetings had quietly taken place between lay and clerical Catholics and associates of Planned Parenthood to draft a blueprint for repealing the ban through the Legislature. The blueprint appeared as an essay by a young Catholic doctor, Joseph Dorsey, in the Oct. 15, 1964, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. It acknowledged the need in a pluralistic society for a consensus on a moral principle before it can be expressed as a civil law. Cushing, among others, read and approved the article prior to publication. A close confidant of the cardinal wrote a foreword calling the article a balanced and thoughtful review of a topic that has a history of complexity and bitterness.Cushings silence in the summer of 1965 is best explained by his expectation that the Second Vatican Council, nearing its end, would soon release a long-anticipated statement recognizing that individuals may not be coerced to act against their conscience. Local church officials believed this statement would give the repeal effort in Massachusetts the cover of Vatican acceptability. That support came four months later, on Dec. 7, 1965, when Pope Paul VI promulgated the Declaration on Religious Freedom.When a bill that would allow physicians to prescribe birth control to any married person was introduced in the next legislative session a bill otherwise similar to the one House members had rejected 11997 the year before Cushing endorsed it publicly by praising its safeguards while reaffirming his position that Catholics did not seek to impose by law their moral view on other members of society. This time the bill passed, 13680."

. Worse, the tenor of the bishops statement runs the risk of making this into a partisan issue during a presidential electionThis is a deeply ironic statement, coming from such a group of people who turn everything into a partisan issue. As for this: Church-state relations are complicated, requiring the careful weighing of competing moral claims. The USCCBs statement fails to acknowledge that fact. Fact? My children's elementary school, in about the third grade, has children go through lots and lots of statements to classify them as "fact" or "opinion." Perhaps some adults need remediation on that distinction . . . .

It seems the bishops are not ignoring the plight of Islam, or other faiths, at least according to CNN:"Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home, the bishops said in a Thursday statement. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith?This is not a Catholic issue, the statement said. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.Dan Gilgoff - CNN Belief Blog Co-EditorFiled under: Catholic Church

Religious liberty, absolutely. Partisan politics, no.

Unfortunately, it's only one party that's instituted the health-insurance mandate, created a situation in which it's been necessary to close Catholic adoption agencies, and refused to renew a large contract with a Catholic social-services agency because of a religious limitation that was worked around by the previous administration, which was of the other party.The Catholic bishops didn't cause this conflict; they were forced into it. The conflict was created by the Democratic President of the United States. You can't get around that.

@David Smith 12:23AMAgain, re: "refused to renew a large contract with a Catholic social-services agency because of a religious limitation that was worked around by the previous administration"That work around involved a violation of the First Amendment according to a Federal court ruling last month that said:It is therefore ADJUDGED and DECLARED that the government defendants violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, insofar as they delegated authority to a religious organization to impose religiously based restrictions on the expenditure of taxpayer funds, and thereby impliedly endorsed the religious beliefs of the USCCB and the Catholic Church.The judge added a footnote: "This case is not about government forcing a religious institution to act contrary to its most fundamental beliefs. No one is arguing that the USCCB can be mandated by government to provide abortion or contraceptive services or be discriminated against for its refusal to do so. Rather, this case is about the limits of the governments ability to delegate to a religious institution the right to use taxpayer money to impose its beliefs on others (who may or may not share them).

I think the American bishops do not perceive that many people consider the Religious Right to be more of a threat to religious freedom in the. U.S. than the HHS mandate because it seeks to impose its religious values on people of other Christian denominations, non-Christians, and the non-religious by encoding its values into law.

Many people are confusing the ability to accommodate the religious beliefs of others with religious liberty. It's similar to how people confuse whether a newspaper prints something with freedom of speech. Just as the fact that a newspaper can or even has printed something in the past doesn't mean that refusing to print something is a violation of a person's freedom of speech, the fact that an individual, an organization, or even the government could accommodate someone's religiously motivated request doesn't mean that denying the request is an affront to their religious liberty. If a customer requests their food prepared to fit religious requirements, a store or restaurant can either accommodate them or not. If not, the customer can either accept the normal goods or go somewhere else. If an agency wants to contract out some charitable work or provision of services and a religious organization wants to put some restrictions on how they do that, the agency can either accommodate their request or not. If not, the religious organization can either accept the contract without restrictions or not. There are times when religious requests should be accommodated even if they don't have to be. There are also times when a religious request is unreasonable. Regardless of how the two parties decide to interact with each other, this isn't an issue of religious liberty.

Cupcake --I think you're on to something. Both sides are being unreasonable about the HHS thing.

WayneDid you notice Native Americans were absent in the list? Why are their religious liberties violated?

The bishops correctly see government directed hostility to religion in general and Catholicism in particular and are more than justified in resisting it. The editors complain that the bishops' statement is wongheaded because " strangely absent from the list of examples provided by the bishops is the best-documented case of growing hostility to religious presence in the United States: hostility to Islam." Government directed hostility to Islam? What in Hades are the editors talking about? The Obama administration even refuses to identify the principal source for most terrorist acts over the last few decades - "Islamic extremism." It is that extremism that is the source of hostility to Islam on the part of the public, but there has been no government directed hostility to Islam that I am aware of. I see this lame editorial as an effort to get noticed by the White House so that the next time the bishops meet with White House people, they will quote Commonweal to them instead of America.

Thanks to Charles Camosy for his measured reflection on the bishops' statement to which the editors' hasty post did scant justice.I second the concerns of some that the editors risk indulging the very partisanship they claim to decry.Four years ago I cautioned that the involvement of one of the editors in the 2008 Obama campaign threatened to undermine "Commonweal's" credibility. I thought it far more prudent to avoid any semblance of partisanship in the matter. My view was dismissed as without merit. Perhaps that dismissal was also too hastily rendered.

RobertWhen the exaggerated polemics reads as if it were a WND striving for conflict against the president than it does an examination of religious liberty in ALL of its dimensions, with people highly involved with the GOP connected to the statement, it will be difficult for one not to question the agenda. I don't think all involved are with such an agenda, however, I think many are not being given the full picture, and have no sense of the long history of religious liberty disputes in the US. If you want an eye-opening book to read, get Smith's "A Seat At the Table," which is all about religious liberty in the US in relation to Native Americans. You will see many of those involved in the dialogues in the book constantly pointing to the Catholic hierarchy in ways they hindered Native American religious liberty - because the hierarchy thought something (like a telescope for science) was more important. In many ways, if there is any religious liberty issue at hand, it must be seen in connection with the society which Catholics have helped form. Unless we are willing to address our own contribution to this problem instead of focusing on the other, the problem will only get worse.

HenryWho are those highly involved with the GOP connected to the statement? Since the statement does not match the mindset of Commonweal and yours, then it must have the involvement of the GOP?

It's interesting that the US bishops' opinions on politics still carry enough weight and have enough credibility that people here take the time to read them and think about them, even if it's to disagree with them and discuss them heatedly.