Coloradans have chance to rescue the unborn

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

Some people in our pews today can remember the time when abortion was not legal. But the rest of you who are filling the seats in our churches, working various jobs across northern Colorado and living next door are survivors. You may not realize it, but more than 50 million people who should be alive today are not because they were aborted.

Each of us is blessed that our mothers and fathers chose life for us, even when that meant life being very difficult for them. The recent revelations that the abortion provider Ulrich Klopfer kept the remains of 2,246 aborted children in his home, or the gruesome scenes brought to light by the trial of Kermit Gosnell lay bare the reality of what happens in abortion into clear focus.  Abortion is the violent taking of innocent, defenseless life, and the fact that this is legal in the United States is abhorrent.

Many people ask me what they can do to respond to this grave injustice. We must first and foremost pray for mothers and fathers who believe that they have no other choice than abortion. We must pray that their hearts are opened to God’s mercy and experience his forgiveness, no matter what they have done. At the same time, we should be ready to materially assist those women who find themselves considering abortion. That is why we have been working to expand our Marisol Health Clinics in recent years. We must be using every resource we have — medical care, food, shelter, counseling and friendship — to love Jesus as he comes to us via those in need.

Yes, we should be moved by the tragedy of how many innocent lives are being snuffed out by abortion, but we should not allow this injustice to let us overlook the suffering of the mothers and fathers who are often driven by fear to consider abortion. Similarly, we must not lose sight of the fact that those who work at abortion clinics believe that they are doing good, that they are helping people in need. Are we praying for these clinic workers? Are we treating them with kindness, even if they do not accept it?

In addition to physical, emotional, and prayerful assistance, we can limit the number of unborn children threatened by abortion in the legal realm. Several states have made progress in passing laws that seek to protect women and unborn children. Just this week, for example, we have learned that the United States Supreme Court will hear the case challenging Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, which requires abortionists to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

In Colorado, we have some of the least restrictive abortion laws in the country. Currently, there is no point up until birth at which a baby cannot be aborted. Thankfully, Colorado voters will have the chance in the coming months to help children whose lives are at risk by signing a petition to qualify Proposition 120 for the November 2020 ballot. This proposition will restrict abortion to a maximum age of 22 weeks gestation, the point at which it is possible for a child to live on its own outside its mother’s womb.

I urge all Catholics to get involved in this effort! The bishops of Colorado and I have given permission to every pastor to allow trained signature gatherers to ask for signatures at every Catholic church in the state. It is important that those asking for signatures be trained so that we obtain the maximum number of certifiable signatures possible.

The fight against the culture of death is a long-term battle. In some ways known only to God, it will not be won until the second coming of Jesus Christ. However, we must not let up in our efforts to ensure that the goodness of every human life is respected in our laws, our churches and our families. It is my fervent prayer that in future generations, none of us will have to say that we are a survivor of abortion and that this great travesty is replaced by a culture of life.

If people in your parish are interested in being involved in this effort and would like to receive the training to collect signatures, please have them send an email to: life@ccdenver.org.

COMING UP: Our first and most precious freedom

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Our first and most precious freedom

What four recent Supreme Court cases say about the present and future of religious liberty

Eric Kniffin

In September 2015, Pope Francis called religious liberty “one of America’s most precious possessions” and urged American Catholics “to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.” For while “American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive,” the Pope noted “they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty.”

Five years later, the vigilance Pope Francis spoke of is needed now more than ever. Over the first half of 2020, the Supreme Court decided four major religious liberty cases. The first case will open Christian employers up to a whole new slate of discrimination lawsuits, but overall the Court has expanded religious liberty protections. On the whole, I remain optimistic about the future of religious liberty. But, as Pope Francis cautioned, we as Catholics need to be vigilant about protecting this most precious freedom.

Supreme Court Overview

The case that has caused the most consternation for the Church is the June 15 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status.

The Court’s ruling sent shockwaves throughout the Church. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB, lamented “that the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively redefined the legal meaning of ‘sex’ in our nation’s civil rights law,” calling it “an injustice that will have implication in many areas of life.”

Notre Dame law professor Rick Garnett agreed, predicting that Bostock may affect not only  Catholic employers’ hiring decisions, but also “universities’ residential-hall practices, sports-eligibility rules, government contracts and research grants.”

But while Bostock will certainly lead to more religious liberty conflicts, the Supreme Court’s other three religious liberty decisions demonstrate the Court’s strong commitment to what the USCCB has called our “First Freedom.”

In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Court finally confronted the ugly anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant history of “Blaine amendments,” provisions found in 37 state constitutions—including Colorado—that block state funds from going to religious schools. The Court held that Blaine amendments violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, which “protects religious observers against unequal treatment” and against “laws that impose special disabilities on the basis of religious status.”

Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania marks the Supreme Court’s latest foray in the nearly decade-long battle over the federal contraception mandate. The Court held that the Trump Administration acted lawfully when it created a broader religious employer exemption from the mandate, and affirmed that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) not only permits but requires federal agencies to consider whether regulations like the contraception mandate burden religious exercise.

The last religious liberty case of the term was Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru. which asked whether teachers at two California Catholic schools qualified for the First Amendment’s “ministerial exception,” a doctrine that keeps the government from interfering with the Church’s most important personnel decisions. The Court said yes, affirming that the ministerial exception should be interpreted broadly to protect the right of religious institutions “to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.”

Brokering a Fragile Peace

What do these decisions say about where we are as a society and the future of religious liberty? All four cases show the Supreme Court struggling with the reality that we live in a deeply divided, pluralistic society.

Luke Goodrich, Vice President at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, describes this standoff in Chapter 4 of his recent book, Free to Believe: The Battle over Religious Liberty in America. Goodrich notes that Christians believe in absolute truth, and among these truths are teachings about sexual morality and the nature of the human person. But an ever-growing portion of our society not only rejects these teachings, but sees them as bigotry that threatens the “pursuit of happiness” that is every American’s birthright.

Catholic leaders need to take advantage of good religious liberty decisions by taking concrete steps before conflicts arise. All Catholics should pray for our leaders, and that our nation will continue to honor our First Freedom.

How is the Supreme Court trying to manage this fundamental impasse? It seems the Court is willing to adopt the dominant progressive worldview, but with two important exceptions. First, the Court has continued to stand by our nation’s fundamental commitment to religious liberty. Second, it has refused to follow the left in condemning the Church’s teachings as hateful bigotry.

This is the same approach the Supreme Court took in Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that declared a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. That same decision also rejected efforts to conflate those, like Catholics, who believe in traditional marriage with racists: “Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.”

This fragile peace will be tested again this fall, when the Supreme Court takes up Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. That case asks whether the City can force Catholic Social Services to either place children with same-sex couples, in violation of its Catholic beliefs, or else abandon its foster care ministry altogether. The Supreme Court’s decision will be yet another test as to whether the First Amendment makes room for the Catholic Church to serve the public while remaining true to its unpopular teachings about the human person.

Practical Steps Forward

What do these high-stakes battles over religious liberty mean for Catholics today? The big picture concern, as Goodrich notes in Free to Believe, is that our “culture is changing. Religious freedom is not as secure as it once was.”

What does this mean for the Church and the Catholic faithful?  For the Church and other Catholic organizations, the fragile state of religious liberty means they need to take proactive steps to take advantage of available religious liberty protections. Goodrich urges religious leaders to take practical steps to “strengthen their witness and reduce their likelihood of conflict and loss.” “Far too often,” Goodrich warns, “religious organizations wait until a conflict is already upon them before seeking legal advice. By then, it’s often too late.” Goodrich’s advice echoes many of the strategies I outlined in a special report for the Heritage Foundation, Protecting Your Right to Serve: How Religious Ministries Can Meet New Challenges without Changing Their Witness. Taking these practical steps is a time-intensive and resource-intensive process, but as Goodrich shows, such planning is an increasingly important part of stewardship and prudent leadership.

But religious liberty is not just a concern for the institutional Church and those who agree with the Church’s teachings on culture war issues. That is because religious liberty, first and foremost is about liberty, freedom from government coercion. The USCCB calls religious liberty our “First Freedom” not just because it is listed first in the Bill of Rights, but because it is foundational to our other freedoms. To put it another way, if government can force Catholic nuns to buy contraceptives, what can’t it do?

The increasing legal and cultural pressures on religious institutions make the Supreme Court’s religious liberty decisions more important than ever. Catholic leaders need to take advantage of good religious liberty decisions by taking concrete steps before conflicts arise. All Catholics should pray for our leaders, and that our nation will continue to honor our First Freedom.

Eric Kniffin is an attorney in Lewis Roca Rotherberger Christie’s Religious Institutions Practice Group.

Image caption: Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, of the Little Sisters of the Poor, speaks to the media after aruments at the US Supreme Court, March 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. Today the high court heard arguments in Little Sisters v. Burwell, which will examine whether the governments new health care regulation will require the Little Sisters to change their healthcare plan, to other services that violate Catholic teaching. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)