While the Health and Human Services (HHS) contraception/sterilization/abortifacient mandate is often the focus of those concerned with current threats to religious freedom in the U.S., there have been several recent court cases involving the Catholic Church which also look to undermine our First Amendment rights.
Three female teachers – a computer teacher in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio, a first-grade teacher in the same archdiocese and a physical education teacher from the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend, Indiana – sued their respective dioceses after losing their jobs for publicly violating moral teachings of the Church. Two cases involved the Church’s moral objection to in vitro fertilization, and the first-grade teacher in Ohio was fired after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Christa Dias, the former computer teacher in the Ohio case, is also an openly practicing lesbian. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the Diocese of Fort Wayne—South Bend both contend that the women violated employment contracts where they promised to abide by the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.
At the beginning of June, a civil jury ruled against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in the case of the lesbian woman who used IVF to become pregnant, and awarded her over $170,000 to be paid by the Archdiocese ($50,000 in back pay, $21,000 in compensatory damages, and $100,000 in punitive damages). The jury found the Archdiocese to be in violation of federal pregnancy anti-discrimination laws for terminating Dias after she became pregnant. The Archdiocese is considering an appeal. The other two lawsuits are still pending.
The Dias ruling is a serious blow to religious freedom in America. To put it in perspective: the court just fined the Catholic Church for firing a Catholic school employee who violated a promise to live in accordance with Catholic teaching.
In response to the many threats to religious freedom in the “Land of the Free,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is once again sponsoring a national Fortnight for Freedom from June 21 to July 4. This period of prayer, fasting and action is meant to unite the faithful in defending our religious freedom.
June 21 is the eve of the feast of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, both of whom were martyred because of their refusal to support the King of England’s break with the Catholic Church. What better patrons could we have for our stand for religious freedom than these faithful men who died rather than act against their consciences?
Parishes, dioceses and lay organizations have planned a number of special events around the country in solidarity with the bishops on this effort. Human Life International is supporting the Fortnight by asking for pledges to pray the Rosary during the Fortnight and ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for the protection of religious freedom in the U.S. and around the world.
It is not only in the USA that Christians are being bullied. Indeed, Head of the Observatory on Religious Liberty Dr. Massimo Introvigne has argued that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world. At the annual meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), he cited laws in 15 European countries that threaten the religious liberty of Christians, and at last year’s meeting he mentioned 169 court rulings in Europe that were dangerous for the liberties of Christians. In concluding his report to the OSCE, Introvigne warned, “Where discrimination becomes normal, the transition to violence is never far away.” A look throughout history confirms the truth of his prediction.
One of the many reasons we are proud to be Americans is because we are blessed with many freedoms that other people throughout the world do not share. Unfortunately, we have learned over the years that these cherished freedoms are not safe from the nation’s lawmakers. If we are to retain these freedoms, we must be willing to stand up for them, starting now with our foundational right to freely practice our faith. This upcoming Fortnight for Freedom is a time to unite and stand up to lawmakers, judges and all those threatening our constitutional right to religious freedom. Let’s not waste the opportunity.