U.S. Bishops Prepare Catholics for Civil Disobedience: ‘We May Need to Witness to the Truth by Resisting the Law’

By Terence P.  Jeffrey via CNS News

(CNSNews.com) – Having organized 43 plaintiffs—including the archdioceses of New York  and Washington and the University of Notre Dame—to file 12 different  lawsuits against the Obama administration last Monday alleging the  administration is violating the religious freedom of Catholics, the  Catholic bishops of the United States are now preparing Catholics for  what may be the most massive campaign of civil disobedience in this  country since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and early 1960s.

“Some unjust laws impose such injustices on individuals and  organizations that disobeying the laws may be justified,” the bishops  state in a document developed to be inserted into church bulletins in  Catholic parishes around the country in June.

“Every effort must be made to repeal them,” the bishops say in the  document, which is already posted on the website of the U.S. Conference  of Catholic Bishops. “When fundamental human goods, such as the right of  conscience, are at stake, we may need to witness to the truth by  resisting the law and incurring its penalties.”

The bulletin insert reminds Catholic parishioners that the bishops  have called for “A Fortnight of Freedom”—which  they have described as “a special period of prayer, study, catechesis,  and public action”—to take place from June 21 to July 4.

The bishops  have noted that June 21, when this fortnight will begin, is the Vigil of the Feast of St. John Fisher and  St. Thomas More. Fisher was a Roman Catholic cardinal  whom the English monarch  Henry VIII beheaded in 1535 after he refused to act against his conscience and  take an oath asserting that Henry was the supreme authority over the  church in England. That same year, Henry VIII also beheaded Thomas More, his former  chancellor, for the same reason.

The sterilization-contraception-abortifacient mandate is set to go into effect for most health-care plans on Aug. 1, about four weeks after the bishops’ “Fortnight of Freedom.”

In campaign speeches delivered this week after the Catholic dioceses and organizations filed their 12 lawsuits, both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama indicated that the administration intends to move forward and enforce the mandate.

Mrs. Obama  brought it up in a stump speech in Cleveland on Monday afternoon, less than three hours after the Catholic bishops had announced their lawsuits.

“You can tell people how, because we passed health reform, insurance  companies  will now have to cover preventive care–have to,” said Mrs. Obama.  “Things  like contraception,  cancer screenings, prenatal care–and they have  to do it at no extra cost.   People have to understand that’s what that  fight was for.”

President Obama signaled his personal commitment to enforcing the sterilization-contraception-abortifacient mandate, using virtually identical language about it in back-to-back campaign speeches Wednesday and Thursday in California and Iowa.

“We don’t need another political fight about ending a woman’s right to  choose, or  getting rid of Planned Parenthood or taking  away affordable  birth control,” Obama said.  “We don’t need that. I  want women to control their  own health choices, just like I want my  daughters to have the same economic  opportunities as my sons.  We’re  not turning back the clock. We’re  not going back there.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

While detained, King, who was a Baptist minister, wrote his  “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” in which he said the moral  justification for civil disobedience against Alabama’s segregation laws  was derived from the writings of the Roman Catholic saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

“During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Americans  shone the light of the Gospel on a dark history of slavery, segregation, and racial bigotry,” the Catholic bishops say in their bulletin insert.  “The civil rights movement was an essentially religious movement, a call  to awaken consciences.

“In his famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ in 1963,” the bishops  says, “Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. boldly said, ‘The goal of America is  freedom.’ As a Christian pastor, he argued that to call America to the  full measure of that freedom was the specific contribution Christians  are obliged to make. He rooted his legal and constitutional arguments  about justice in the long Christian tradition: ‘I would agree with Saint  Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’… 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.’”

The bishops have argued that elements of the Patient Protection and  Affordable Care Act—AKA Obamacare—including the  so-called “preventive services” mandate, would force faithful Catholics  to act against their consciences and the teachings of their church. The  mandate requires that virtually all health-care plans in the United  States cover, without any fees or co-pay, sterilizations and all Food  and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, including those that  cause abortions.

The bishops also object to the manner in which Obamacare deals with  abortion generally. In April, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops  issued a background paper explaining how Obamacare not only would use tax dollars to fund abortions but would also force  Americans to pay for abortions with the premiums they would pay to purchase health  insurance—which under Obamacare they are mandated to do. The  backgrounder was titled, “The New Federal Regulation on Coerced Abortion  Payments.”

Additionally, the bishops object to the so-called “religious”  exemption to the mandate that requires all health-care plans cover  sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients. That exemption only  applies to “religious” organizations that are primarily focused on  inculcating religious tenets and that serve and employ primarily members  of their own denomination. This “religious” exemption would not extend  to Catholic schools, universities, hospitals, and charitable  organizations—and, the bishops argue, it violates the Establishment  Clause of the First Amendment by empowering federal bureaucrats to  determine which religious institutions are truly “religious” and which  ones are not.

In their bulletin insert, the bishops unequivocally state that the  administration’s sterilization-contraception-abortifacient mandate would  force people to act against their consciences.

“This is a matter  of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the  government to provide such coverage even when it violates our  consciences,” say the bishops.

“What we ask is nothing more than the right to follow our consciences  as we live out our teaching,” they say.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius first announced the sterilization-contraception-abortifacient regulation last August. At that time, the bishops submitted formal comments to HHS, calling the regulation an “unprecedented attack on religious liberty” and asking the administration to rescind it in its entirety.

After Sebelius finalized the regulation in January, many Catholic bishops around the country asked their priests to read a letter from the pulpit at Sunday Masses that said: “We cannot–we will not–comply with this unjust law.”

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who leads the Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services wrote a letter that he asked all Catholic chaplains to read at Sunday masses at U.S. military facilities across the globe. Broglio’s letter not only said “we will not” comply with the law, it also said: “It is a blow to a freedom that you have fought to defend and for which you have seen your buddies fall in battle.”

As reported by CNSNews.com, the Army told Army chaplains not to read this letter in Mass, a move that Archdiocese for the Military Services described as a violation of the First Amendment rights of Archbishop Broglio and Catholic chaplains.

In the April backgrounder, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop  said that another regulation issued by the Obama administration in March of this  year confirmed what the bishops had said about Obamacare when it was up  for a vote in 2010 and they opposed its passage.

“While some have misunderstood or misrepresented the Act’s role in  funding abortions, the new rule confirms that analyses by the Catholic  bishops’ conference were accurate on this point,” said the backgrounder.

“Under this Act,” it says, “millions of American taxpayers will be forced to help  support abortion coverage, in two ways:  (1) Through their tax dollars  all taxpayers will be forced to subsidize overall health plans that  cover elective abortions, contrary to the policy of the Hyde amendment  and every other major federal program, and (2) Many of these Americans  will also be forced to pay directly for other people’s abortions. Some  will say this is technically not ‘tax funding of abortions,’ because the  required surcharge will be a premium payment rather than a tax payment  as such. But what the payment is called is less important than what it actually does.”

The day after releasing this analysis, the bishops issued “A  Statement on Religious Liberty,” that explained the Catholic belief that  “an unjust law cannot be obeyed” and called for Catholics to join in  what the bishops called “A Fortnight of Freedom” that will run from June  21 to July 4.

June 21, the bishops pointed out, is the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More.

“We suggest that the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the  Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence  Day, be dedicated to this ‘fortnight for freedom’—a great hymn of prayer  for our country,” said the bishops.

“Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who  remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John  Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul,  and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome,” said the bishops.  “Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study,  catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our Christian and  American heritage of liberty.”

“It is a sobering thing to contemplate our government enacting an  unjust law,” the bishops said. “An unjust law cannot be obeyed. In the  face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially  by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face  today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in  solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey  them. No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it. But if it  should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and  an obligation of faith.”

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