BALTIMORE –– The work of defending religious liberty will continue more robustly and without end in the face of growing challenges, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, told his fellow bishops during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that “whatever setbacks or challenges in the efforts to defend religious liberty we may be experiencing, we’re going to stay the course.”
He made the comments in a report on the ad hoc committee’s recent activities Nov. 12.
“Defense of religious freedom requires not just dealing with short-term and mid-term goals, but indeed is a project that requires long-term foundational and formational work,” he said.
The committee has introduced educational materials aimed at all Catholics, but particularly to young people, Archbishop Lori explained.
Among the activities is a new website — www.firstamericanfreedom.com — to explain long-standing church teaching on religious practice and traditional marriage. Other activities will focus on providing materials to parishes, organizations and interested groups to discuss and learn about church teaching on religious freedom, he added.
“Our work is to provide education and formation as part of the new evangelization,” Archbishop Lori said in his 18-minute report. “I think that our initial efforts have demonstrated the need for greater formation, especially to reach young people, to open their hearts to their heritage as Americans and to what faith teaches about religious liberty.”
Acknowledging the church sustained setbacks as voters in three states approved measures that legalized same-sex marriage, Archbishop Lori said the effort will include wider distribution of a religious freedom curriculum developed for use in schools and parishes. Materials have been prepared in both Spanish and English, according to the archbishop.
At a news conference following the assembly’s morning session, Archbishop Lori said young people in particular are vital to the future of the church and the church must make an extra effort to explain its teaching as part of the new evangelization program initiated by Pope Benedict XVI.
“As is often the case as young people grow up, we’re all struggling (to) give them tools they need to be faithful Catholics,” he said.
He expressed hope that the curriculum might include an essay contest “and other things we hope will be fun. We need to find creative ways to engage and really interest young people.”
Beyond reaching young people, Archbishop Lori said in his report, the church’s efforts will continue to focus on expanding the definition of religious and faith-based organizations as the rule-making continues under the Affordable Care Act. He reiterated the USCCB’s stance that the government’s definition of a religious group is inappropriate.
“This is drawing lines in our mission where we do not draw them,” he said.
Under the health care law, the Department of Health and Human Services mandates that most employers, including religious employers, provide insurance coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services.
A narrow exemption applies only to those religious institutions that seek to inculcate their religious values and primarily employ and serve people of their own faith. The mandate does not include a conscience clause for employers who object to such coverage on moral grounds.
Archbishop Lori said the ad hoc committee will continue to monitor the status of numerous lawsuits challenging the HHS contraceptive mandate and also will become involved in the legislative process when appropriate to change the law so that religious organizations are not required to adhering to the mandate in violation of religious principles, Archbishop Lori explained.
“We seek to defend religious freedom so we have the space, the liberty to fulfill our mission,” he said.
“We have an enormous amount to learn and a lot more work to do, especially growing in our capacity to communicate a good message in new and effective ways.”