Liberty and Justice for All

07-02-2017Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Since 2012, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked us to observe a “Fortnight for Freedom” each year from June 21 to July 4 in order to highlight the importance of Religious Freedom. This all began after the unprecedented assault on religious liberty by the Obama Administration via the “contraception mandate.” Each year the Fortnight for Freedom aims to remind Catholics of the preciousness of their inheritance of freedom as Americans and Catholics and the necessity of standing up to threats to it.

So how have we been doing? First, let’s take a look at the local level. Through the efforts of the Arizona Catholic Conference, several key pieces of legislation were signed into law this year.

SB 1439 protects health care providers not wanting to participate in services causing the death of their patients. These protections already exist under federal law with respect to health care providers not participating in assisted suicide or similar actions. SB 1439, however, will add state level protections and clarify that these healthcare providers are not discriminated against in their employment.

Another bill, SB 1367, makes sure that babies born alive after failed abortions are not discarded, but receive the basic medical care needed. Numerous other bills aimed at legalizing assisted suicide and repealing virtually every pro-life and rights of conscience law on the books were introduced, but thankfully, they were all defeated.

Another bill (SB 1468) that would have severely punished agencies assisting refugees was successfully defeated. Catholic Charities is an agency that has long helped countless refugees find a place to live, learn English, obtain employment, and become self-sufficient. Under this bill, they would have been fined $1,000 per day for each refugee they helped. Similarly, there were other bills introduced (SB 1349 and HB 2038) that would have eventually repealed the charitable and foster care tax credit programs that benefit Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul, pregnancy resource centers, soup kitchens, and others. Fortunately, through the advocacy efforts of the ACC, all of these measures that would have harmed faith based and other charities were ultimately defeated.

All in all, it was a good year on the State level. On the Federal level, the fate of the “contraception mandate” is still in limbo. Though the Supreme Court remanded it back to DHS to work out a solution, no solution has been finalized. Part of this may be the revision of the ACA that is currently being worked on. Still, the lack of progress from the new Administration on this issue is rather disheartening. The Little Sisters of the Poor are still awaiting a decision.

The recent Supreme Court Decision in the Trinity Lutheran case was a 7-2 victory for Religious liberty. Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., wanted to participate in a state program that reimburses the cost of rubberizing the surface of playgrounds. But the state said that was not allowed. The exclusion raised big questions about how to uphold the Constitution’s prohibition on government support for religion without discriminating against those who are religious. The Court ruled in favor of the Church, stating: “The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the church — solely because it is a church — to compete with secular organizations for a grant. The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution … and cannot stand,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

For the Fall term, the Court has agreed to hear the case of the Denver cake baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and was sued by the state of Colorado for discrimination. This a big case that will have “yuge” implications.

“We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other. Our allegiances are distinct, but they need not be contradictory, and should instead be complementary. That is the teaching of our Catholic faith, which obliges us to work together with fellow citizens for the common good of all who live in this land. That is the vision of our founding and our Constitution, which guarantees citizens of all religious faiths the right to contribute to our common life together.” (from the USCCB statement on Religious Liberty)

Happy Fourth of July!
Love, Fr. John B.