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On July 4, 2012, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops concluded their Fortnight for Freedom, a pulpit political initiative that is intended to challenge certain aspects of President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act (AHA). The Bishops are cheezed off because, under the AHA, the Catholic Church will be required to provide healthcare access to its many US employees–and a fair number of those employees are sure to use that healthcare coverage to obtain contraceptives. Regardless, of the global population explosion, and the fact that the vast majority of the Pope’s US flock has been religiously using contraception for generations, contraception is something that the Catholic Church officially abhors. If Catholics are going to have sex, then, by God, it’s going to be unprotected sex. Global population doubled twice during the 20th century (from 1.5 billion in 1900 to 6 billion in 2000) and the Pope wants to ensure that it does likewise in the 21st century. Via the Fortnight for Freedom, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops are attempting to make the argument that the AHA’s mandates will inhibit their religious freedom. In this case, ‘religious freedom’ is defined rather broadly as ‘blocking access to contraceptives for Catholic Church employees.’ On July 4th, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, asserted that ‘God grants freedom, not government.’ However, on that point, Bishop Chaput is dead wrong. Why do Americans enjoy religious freedom? Americans enjoy religious freedom not because god granted them that freedom, but because their government ensures religious freedom. I dare Bishop Chaput to cite the spot in the Bible where it says ‘Let it be known that henceforth citizens of the USA will enjoy the right to religious freedom–and, by the way, employees of the Catholic Church shall be denied the opportunity to engage in contraceptively-protected sex on the Church’s dime.” Nope, there’s no mention whatsoever of Americans and their preferred methods of contraception in the Bible. Trust me, I’ve checked. What freedoms Americans do enjoy, religious and otherwise, are spelled out in the US Constitution. Although, of late, Catholic Bishops have been insisting that religious freedom is America’s ‘first freedom,’ technically-speaking, that isn’t true. First of all, being an appendix to the Constitution, the First Amendment cannot be said to confer the ‘first rights’ on US citizens, but rather, some of the last. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Essentially, where the First Amendment refers to religion it simply asserts that there must be a separation of church and state. In other words, the USA defines itself as a secular state that tolerates religious freedom. Conversely, the US government will protect religious freedom, but it will not tolerate interference by any religion that would presume to manipulate the day-to-day governance of the USA. Once we understand the proper relationship of religion and government in the USA, and the true intent of the First Amendment, it rapidly becomes clear that the ‘Fortnight of Freedom’ is nothing but an example of excessive and illegal overreach on the part of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Catholicism and every other religion within the boundaries of the US owe their existence to legal (i.e., Constitutional), not religious protections. But, just as religions are protected by the laws of the land, so must they obey the limitations of those laws. In sum, Bishop Chaput and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops have no business telling President Obama how to run the USA. Instead, Bishop Chaput and his colleagues should thank President Obama for his enduring support of the First Amendment protections that enable Catholicism and every other legitimate religion to operate in the US. When it comes to the business of running the government, Bishop Chaput and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops should mind their own business, and be grateful for the priceless freedoms that (legally!) collaborating with the US government affords. Finally, if the US government passes a requirement that all employers in the US will be obliged to provide healthcare to their employees, it is not the business of the Catholic Church to dispute that directive. It is the duty of the Catholic Church, like all upstanding citizens of the USA, to obey that directive. As we move toward 2014 and full implementation of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Bishop Chaput would be well served to remember Jesus Christ’s sage admonition, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.”

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