.- In an article for First Things, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles pointed to several recent examples of religious freedom being suppressed in the U.S. and warned that the basis of the country's democracy is at stake.
“There is much evidence to suggest that our society no longer values the public role of religion or recognizes the importance of religious freedom as a basic right,” Archbishop Gomez said on Oct. 25.
“America’s founders understood that our democracy depends on Americans' being moral and virtuous,” he wrote. “They knew the best guarantee for this is a civil society in which individuals and religious institutions were free to live, act, and vote according to their values and principles.”
Archbishop Gomez, who leads the largest diocese in the U.S., said that Catholics have always believed that they are equipped to be the best citizens when they follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Church.
Since before the founding of our country, he noted, members of the faith have worked to provide “vital” social services, education, and health care for surrounding society.
“But lately, this is becoming harder and harder for us to do,” he said.
Archbishop Gomez cited the example of the government denying funding to the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services agency, which since 2006 has helped thousands of women and children who are victims of human trafficking.
“Recently, the government had been demanding that our agency provide abortions, contraception and sterilizations for the women we serve,” he said.
“We hope our application was not denied because we refused to provide these services that are unnecessary and violate our moral principles and religious mission.”
As disconcerting as it is, however, this situation is “not an isolated case,” he said.
Archbishop Gomez drew attention to the Health and Human Services Department's proposed rule that would force private employers to provide insurance coverage for sterilizations and contraception—including medications that cause early abortion.
“This not only violates the consciences of Catholic business owners, it also undermines the religious autonomy of Church employers,” he said.
The LA archbishop also pointed to the nationwide push to legalize “same-sex marriage,” which has already caused Church adoption and foster-care ministries to shut down rather than “submit to government demands that they place children with same-sex couples or provide benefits for same-sex employees.”
Although the Catholic belief in marriage is held “by many Protestants, the Orthodox, and also by Jews and Muslims, among others,” many people fear “that this belief might now be labeled as a form of bigotry and lead to new challenges to our liberties,” he said.
“All of this is troubling and represents a sharp break with our history and American traditions,” Archbishop Gomez noted. “Religious liberty has always been 'the first freedom' in our Bill of Rights and in our national identity.”
He added that because of their concern over this issue, the U.S. bishops founded a new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, announced by president Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York earlier this month.
“My brother bishops and I are deeply concerned that believers’ liberties—and the Church’s freedom to carry out her mission—are threatened today, as they never have been before in our country’s history.”
“We need to help our leaders today rediscover the wisdom of America’s founding,” he underscored. “At stake are not just our liberties but also the future character of our democracy.”