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October 16, 2013
Column #1,677
Religious Liberty Threatened
By Mike McManus

Last Sunday Catholics at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia were banned from attending Mass because of the partial shutdown of the Federal Government. Father Ray Leonard, a Catholic priest, was prohibited from volunteering to celebrate Mass without pay and was told if he violated that order, he could be subject to arrest.

However, Protestant services there continued as usual.

“This is an astonishing attack on religious freedom by the Federal Government,” asserted the Thomas More Law Center, which filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Fr. Leonard. The Pentagon later apologized, but the Center’s suit will continue.

This is one example of hundreds of new cases of attacks on religious liberty by our government. In fact, the 2,200 attendees at the Family Research Council’s Value Voters Summit last weekend – declared that multiple threats to religious liberty was their deepest concern.

Todd Starnes, who served in the U.S. Army for 25 years before becoming a Fox News commentator, told attendees, “The military profession is different because people are risking their lives for others. The tradition of religious liberty in the military is being transformed into a culture of intimidation and fear.

“If they express support for traditional marriage, they fear consequences for their careers. The Army has one value now – tolerance.”

In a column for Fox News this week, Starnes assailed the U.S. Army for including the American Family Association as a “hate group” like the Ku Klux Klan or Black Panthers. Starnes accurately called the group a “well-respected Christian ministry” that simply supports “traditional family values.”

Again, the Army later apologized, but Tim Wildmon, President of AFA, asserted, ”We are probably going to be taking legal action. The Army has smeared us.”

Master Sgt. Philip Monk was asked by his superior officer, Major Elisa Valenzuela, a lesbian, what he thought about same-sex marriage. Fearing to express his opposition due to his Christian convictions, Monk replied that because of his religious beliefs, he could not answer her question. He was summarily dismissed from his unit, leaving the impression on his record that “he might have done something wrong,” says Michael Berry, an attorney with the Liberty Institute.

The greater threat to religious liberty is with how Obamacare is being implemented. The Liberty Institute has identified 39 for profit companies and 37 non-profit groups such as Wheaton College and Catholic Dioceses who are objecting to being required to offer their employees free birth control and abortion drugs, such as “morning after pills.”

Hobby Lobby, a company with 561 stores is owned by a Catholic who objects to the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate to provide pills, sterilization and abortion drugs. It has won a preliminary injunction from the Tenth Federal Circuit of Appeals. However, other companies have lost an HHS case in the Third Circuit. That conflict likely to lead to the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not been so fortunate. When they protested the HHS mandate, the Administration created an “accommodation” for religious employers, like Catholic University or the Diocese of Evanville - to have the objectionable products provided indirectly to their employees by a third party, their insurers.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the USCCB, said the accommodation provided “only minor changes. Instead of spending our time, energy and treasure on increasing access to health care, as we have done for many decades, we’re now forced to spend those resources on determining how to respond to recently enacted government regulations that restrict and burden our religious freedom. We are united in our resolve to continue to defend our right to live by our faith, and our duty to serve the poor, heal the sick…and insure our people.”

Religious liberty is not something Americans have worried about.

Ever since 1791 when the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, the First Amendment guaranteed that government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

However, the Obama Administration seems to have forgotten that freedom of conscience is built into the American DNA. We expect countries like Egypt or Russia to deny freedom of religion to its citizens.

But our own government has been forcing Catholic hospitals, which provide 40 percent of the nation’s inpatient care - to give its employees birth control, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in violation of Catholic conscience – and for free.

This is an outrage which people of all political persuasions should all condemn.

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