By Malin Jordan
Talk about freedom! I am in the great state of Indiana for the 2012 Catholic Media Conference, and the word is on everyone's lips.
The USCCB's "Fortnight for Freedom" began today. That's big news here as the event is a call to action by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to urge its clergy, religious, and laity to defend religious liberty and protect their "first freedom" - the freedom of religion.
The pushback is also coming on the heels of a lawsuit filed by 56 Catholic organizations against the U.S. government over the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate, which mandates that groups provide abortifacients, sterilization, and contraception to their workers in their health care coverage. (The religious exemption definition is so narrow that very few entities would qualify.)
"This administration is systematically destroying freedom of religion," remarked one conference attendee.
For a Canadian, all the talk of freedom can seem a bit over the top, but with recent rulings in Canada, there are concerns that our freedom of religion is being rolled back too.
Another attendee assured me that it would be wrong to view the lawsuit as a pushback against the Obama administration's insistence that Catholic entities provide those services that are anti-life. Though the machinations of the lawsuit may have begun there, this is now a "religious freedom issue," he said, as the HHS mandate would have Catholics violate their consciences.
Though the U.S. has different laws, a different health care system, a different history, and different people, what happens in the U.S. will have implications in Canada.
In our Code of Canon Law, in canon 22, it says, "Civil laws to which the law of the Church yields are to be observed in canon law with the same effects, insofar as they are not contrary to divine law and unless canon law provides otherwise."
This should be important for Canadians to remember as we watch American Catholics battle for religious liberty, since we too are seeing infringement upon religious freedoms.
Ontario has passed Bill-13, the ruling that Catholic schools in Ontario must accept "Gay-Straight Alliances." The bill would force Catholic schools to open GSAs upon request.
This seems counterintuitive, as Church teaching on same-sex attraction is seriously undermined by allowing a club designed to normalize homosexuality to be set up in a Catholic institution when the Catechism clearly teaches that homosexual behaviour is a sin.
Across Canada, marriage commissioners must either perform same-sex marriages or resign.
As activist governments become ever more strident, religious Canadians of all creeds need to be cautious.
In a speech at the Catholic Media Conference, Archbishop Charles Chaput offered some advice for Catholics in the U.S. that could equally apply to Catholics around the world, to use in the present, and in future, battles for religious liberty.
"The worst enemies of religious freedom aren't "out there" among the legion of critics who hate Christ or the Gospel or the Church, or all three," he said. "The worst enemies are in here, with us - all of us, clergy, religious, and lay - when we live our faith with tepidness, routine, and hypocrisy."
He noted, "Religious liberty isn't a privilege granted by the state. It's our birthright as children of God."
That is something Canadians should remember too. In our Charter, it happens that our "first freedom" is also a fundamental one - the freedom of conscience and religion.
Canadians could take a lesson from across the line: we must fight to defend our religious freedoms. Nothing is free.