I participated in the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally at the Town Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. On a brilliant sunny Friday I had the privilege on emceeing the event and giving one of the addresses. I stood alongside of other Catholics, evangelical protestants, tea party activists, and many other people of faith and good will. We stood arm in arm to defend religious liberty and thus to defend the common good.The Rallies of Friday, June 8, 2012 were held in close to 200 Cities in the USA
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA. (Catholic Online) - I participated in the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally at the Town Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. On a brilliant sunny Friday I had the privilege on emceeing the event and giving one of the addresses. I stood alongside of other Catholics, evangelical protestants, tea party activists, and many other people of faith and good will. We stood arm in arm to defend religious liberty and thus to defend the common good.
The HHS Mandate which prompted our gathering was issued on January 20, 2012 by Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services. It would require all employers, including Catholic and other religious employers, to cover sterilization, abortion inducing drugs, and contraception in their health care plans. The unconstitutional and unjust edict threatens the foundations of freedom which have secured the American experiment in ordered liberty.
The exemption offered by the Obama Administration for religious employers did not cover hospitals, universities, soup kitchens, outreaches to the poor and many other vital expressions of our Catholic faith and mission. Clearly, the exemption would not cover the earthly ministry of Jesus as he reached out to all. He continues to do just that through the Church which is His Body, continuing His redemptive mission.
The 25th chapter of St Matthews Gospel records His sobering words. We will be judged by whether we recognized Him in the face of the sick, the poor, the imprisoned, and the marginalized. Catholics, along with other Christians, believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ demands a response which goes beyond the walls of our Church buildings. We are our brother and sister's keeper. We do not reach out to people in need because they are Catholic. We reach out to people in need because we are Catholic. We will not be prevented from doing so!
The "accommodation" offered by the Administration following the initial outcry over the mandate was a fraud, a shell game, which accomplished nothing. When the Mandate was recorded in the Federal Register, nothing had changed. This HHS Edict is a violation of the Free Exercise of Religion which is protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF!
The Right to the Free Exercise of religion is called the "FIRST FREEDOM" in the American tradition for good reason. It is a foundation of all of our freedoms. The Birth Certificate of our Nation, the Declaration of Independence, affirmed the existence of inalienable rights and self evident truths. Those Rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness are endowed by our Creator and not conferred by civil Government. They cannot be taken away by civil Government.
Religious Liberty is at the heart of the Right to Liberty in the Western tradition. This HHS Mandate not only injures the Church and religious institutions it harms the common good of the entire Nation. The Federal Government of the United States is trying to compel us to act against deeply held religious convictions and to violate our formed conscience. It is also an unjust law.
The claim that it is an unjust law is rooted in the western understanding of the nature of law itself. It is the foundation upon which the American founders grounded their insistence that there are inalienable rights, endowed upon us all by a Creator, which cannot be taken away by any civil government. Positive law must reflect the Natural Law.
Saint Augustine said of an unjust law, "For it seems to me that an unjust law is no law at all." Saint Thomas Aquinas explained, "Human law is law only in virtue of its accordance with right reason: and thus it is manifest that it flows from the eternal law. And in so far as it deviates from right reason it is called an unjust law; in such case it is no law at all, but rather a species of violence." In doing so, they echoed Cicero, Aristotle and Plato and the entire Natural Law Tradition.
Martin Luther King, Jr., in his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, gave this explanation of how one determines whether a law is unjust, "How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law."
This HHS mandate came one day after Pope Benedict XVI addressed a group of US Bishops during their visit. He warned them of the growth of radical secularism in the United States and the accompanying threats to the fundamental Right to Religious Freedom so integral to the American experiment.
The Rallies of Friday, June 8, 2012 were held in close to 200 Cities in the United States. I stood with Catholic priests like Fr John Abe; the pastor of St Matthews Parish in Virginia Beach. He eloquently represented portions of the Letter entitled "Our First, Most Cherished Liberty" issued by the United States Catholic Bishops - and added his own of explanation and affirmation at the end.
I stood with Fr. Dan Beeman; the Pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Norfolk, Virginia, who is an advisor to Catholic Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo. Fr Beeman gave one of the most inspiring summaries of the Catholic experience in America and told the cheering crowd that we will not back down and we will not comply with this unjust mandate. That crowd included Catholic priests, deacons and lay men and women, as well as many others, who responded enthusiastically to this good priest.
I stood with evangelical protestant Christians who also eloquently stood in defense of the First Freedom. Leaders such as Bishop Earl W Jackson, a candidate for the United States Senate in Virginia, who is both a Harvard Law and Harvard Divinity graduate. "E.W." Jackson is one of the most inspiring speakers I have ever heard. The response of the crowd confirmed I was not alone in my assessment of this gifted man.
I stood with Ryan Bomberger, the co-founder and chief creative officer of Radiance Foundation.Ryan is one of the most creative and courageous younger voices defending the dignity of every human person, including our first neighbors in the womb. His own extraordinary story underscores his heroic and uncompromising defense of every human life.
There were several more wonderful speakers but I will only mention two in this article. Perhaps I can return to the others in future writing. I must mention Rachel Francis, a rising sophomore at Benedictine College in Kansas, one of a growing number of new and renewed dynamically Catholic Colleges and Universities preparing our future leaders for the Church and the world into which she is sent. Rachel was extraordinary and gave me immense hope for our future.
Finally, I must mention Georgie Marquez. Her stories of members from her own family who experienced the Christero wars in Mexico, fought over religious freedom and featured in the extraordinary film, For Greater Glory, moved the entire crowd to shout "Viva Cristo Rey" and reflect upon the importance of our efforts.
There is a silver lining in the dark cloud threatening the First Freedom in the United States. This HHS Edict has given rise to a religious freedom movement which holds great promise for the future of our Nation and the free world. It has prompted a new and promising alliance. We have found one another and we are standing together in solidarity and citizen action.
We are exercising our other fundamental other constitutional rights such as the Rights to Free Speech, Free Association and Free Assembly - and the Right to Petition our Government for a Redress of grievances. We are serving notice on this Administration that the fundamental human right to the first freedom, Religious Freedom, cannot and will not be taken away. We will prevail because our cause is just and serves the true common good.
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