Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport says that the U.S. bishops’ new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty will officially meet for the first time this Sunday, Nov. 13.
He also revealed that the committee, which is “just getting organized,” will likely consist of “about 10 bishops” as well as “a number of very qualified lay consultors.”
“What is our goal? It is first of all to lift up the whole area of religious freedom, beginning with the teaching of the Church in ‘Dignitatis Humanae’--the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom,” said Bishop Lori told CNA on Nov. 8.
He also sees the committee’s task as “recouping, if you will, the vision of our Founding Fathers of the United States.”
The new religious liberty committee was created to address “growing concerns over the erosion of freedom of religion in America.”
The bishops on the committee will be supported by a lawyer who specializes in the area of religious freedom and a lobbyist who will handle both religious liberty and marriage issues.
Bishop Lori explained that his committee will begin its work by addressing the “erosion of our religious liberties in the United States,” particularly those where religious freedom is “deemed a second class right, subordinate to so called ‘rights’ of abortion and same-sex marriage, which are nowhere mentioned in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.”
He feels that in defending life and marriage the Church is increasingly “being painted as discriminatory institution and is therefore being made to suffer.”
That punishment is being meted out by the state, he explained, pointing to the Church being denied contracts to help the poor, being driven out of foster care and adoption, and being required to cover sterilization and contraception in its health care services.
He also highlighted a threat to the “ministerial exception” in the Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Bishop Lori noted that the exception which allows churches to choose their own ministers is a “long-recognized principle in constitutional law.”
All these threats are “serious issues and unprecedented” in U.S. history, he said.
Besides focusing on specific threats, Bishop Lori said the committee will also aim to foster deeper change at the cultural level.
“The place of God and the place of organized religion and of believers has begun to erode in our culture and that is now being reflected in law,” he said.
“Law reflects culture and culture reflects law and, so, one of the things we must do is to re-evangelize the culture in this particular area.”