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Blind guides and the ‘Dirty 100’

When I visited the Little Sisters of the Poor last month, I saw elderly men and women being treated with compassion, respect and charity by the sisters who run Mullen Home for the Aged in Denver.

I learned this week that not everyone respects the sisters when I saw that the National Organization for Women named them to its “Dirty 100” list. In their estimation, these Catholic sisters, who give their lives to God and selflessly serve poor elderly people who cannot afford the care they need, have crossed a line.

What did the sisters do to earn that label? They are refusing to go along with the Obama administration’s contraception mandate and filed a lawsuit to obtain relief from the fines that they face for not complying. In other words, they exercised their freedom to live out their faith, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment.

In its June 30 decision about the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that for-profit business owners do not forfeit their right to religious freedom when they enter the market place. In the meantime, there are dozens of nonprofits that are seeking similar recognition, including the Little Sisters of the Poor.

But NOW is so focused on promoting the mandate that it is blind to the good done by people of faith. Instead, it is ready to smear the good name of the sisters, several Catholic hospitals, universities, homeless shelters, dioceses and the numerous other companies named to the “Dirty 100.”

It does not matter to them that people voluntarily apply to work for Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life or the rest of the 100 organizations they list. Nor does it seem to matter that these same applicants know they are asking to work at a place run by people of faith.

The tunnel vision of NOW and its supporters leads them to say that people who hold these beliefs should be shunned. They must not be tolerated; they are “dirty.”

The root of the problem lies in their misunderstanding of what freedom is. True freedom is the ability to do what is good (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1733). But these activists, like many Americans, think freedom means the ability to do what one wants.

These two ideas about what freedom is inform our society’s perception of “rights.” The first definition of freedom leads to a concrete set of rights that require the pursuit of the good. But the second definition means anything can be a right, including birth control, assisted suicide, same-sex unions, abortifacients and the list goes on.

This misunderstanding of freedom has brought our culture to the point where the Obama administration, NOW, Planned Parenthood and others argue that contraceptives and sterilization somehow trump religious freedom. Their end goal is not the freedom to do what is good, but the ability to choose, regardless of the morality of that choice.

Here in Colorado, opposition to the Hobby Lobby ruling is being led by one of our state’s two senators, Mark Udall. He has joined with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to co-sponsor a bill in the U.S. Senate to ban employers from refusing to provide any health care coverage that is guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act, including contraception, abortifacients and sterilization.

Sen. Udall is being supported in his effort by Planned Parenthood Action, NARAL and the National Women’s Law Center.

The health care system in our country and our society at large would not be what it is today without the contributions of people who were able to act upon their faith. Religious freedom has allowed people concerned with pursuing the common good—that which is true, good and beautiful—to enrich society with their desire to serve God in their fellow man.

Without a true understanding of freedom and the need to protect it, American society is being formed by people seeking momentary pleasures or conveniences like contraception without weighing their true cost. Pope Francis warned in “Evangelii Gaudium” (53) about the “culture of exclusion” that this approach to life creates, in which self-satisfaction trumps concern for the other or any consideration of what is good for society.

When a desire for what is truly good guides our decisions, we are able to recognize the beautiful contributions of people like the Little Sisters of the Poor, instead of calling them “dirty.” I urge all of the faithful of northern Colorado to show your support for the sisters and other organizations that have stood up to the administration’s mandate. I also ask you to contact Senator Udall and urge him to withdraw his bill.

May God bless you in your efforts to find true freedom in your lives by escaping the slavery of sin and pursuing the holiness God calls you to!

For information on how to contact Colorado Senator Mark Udall, as well at Senator Michael Bennet, click here.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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