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April 30, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 13
 

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photo: From left are panel members James Sonne, Jeff Caruso, Michael Moreland, Abbot Placid Solari and Kevin Walsh, who served as moderator at the St. Thomas More Society Forum.Attack on religious liberty said real concern

While many Catholics have great concern over a perceived attack on religious liberty by the government mandate which would require employers to cover contraceptive services in insurance policies for their employees, the president of The Catholic University of America suggested that there might be an even greater concern in that many Americans don’t care enough about religion anymore.

“Religious freedom is important to us only when religion itself is important to us, and maybe we need to look at how often and how much we pray,” John Garvey told a Richmond audience that gathered for a panel discussion and lecture at the Virginia Historical Society.

The program, which drew almost 250 people, followed Mass at St. Benedict Church, a short distance from the VHS.

“Maybe the solution to the problem is not more law suits, but more prayer,” he said.

Mr. Garvey, a lawyer by profession, came to Richmond April 16 to speak at a forum of the St. Thomas More Society. The topic was “On Religion in the Public Square: Conscience Rights.” He later spoke with The Catholic Virginian about the message he feels is most important.

“We need to recollect how important religion is for our lives in saving our own souls, in saving our children, in care of our parents, in setting examples for our friends and the people we work with,” he said. “That’s why we’re here in the first place.

“If that’s really important to us, then the freedom to live that as our faith teaches us becomes the most important thing in life.

“When we talk about freedom, we mean Constitutional freedoms and Constitutional freedoms are freedoms against government interference,” he continued.

In his address, Mr. Garvey spoke about a number of cases where religious freedom has been under a threat, with the first one being the Health and Human Services mandate about contraceptive insurance.

The HHS recently promulgated regulations that require even religious employers who object to the use of contraception to offer an insurance arrangement that would guarantee availability of contraceptives at no additional cost to the insured individuals.

Mr. Garvey also noted that HHS has changed the rules giving federal assistance to groups that fight human trafficking. He pointed out that Catholic Relief Services and the Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have until recently received government grants to stop human trafficking.

“HHS has changed the rules so that anyone who wants to succeed at getting a grant has got to provide a full range of reproductive services,” Mr. Garvey said. “Migration and Refugee Services has been turned down for a grant.”

Mr. Garvey also cited the experience of Catholic Charities in the District of Columbia, which ceased functioning there as an adoption placement agency for children because the agency, citing Catholic Church teaching, would not agree to place adoptive children with unmarried or same-sex couples.

Explaining that the protection for religious freedom in federal courts had been limited by a 1990 ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States, Mr. Garvey continued his litany of recent actions against religious freedom.

“The disappointing thing about all of the cases is that they were actions by elected branches of government or executive agencies — Health and Human Services, the National Labor Relations Board, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Justice, the District of Columbia city government.

“These weren’t courts, these were the executive and legislative branches of the government so the popularly elected branches are not protecting religion the way they once did.”

Again, he speculated that religious freedom is not that important anymore to many Americans.

In a column for the Baltimore Sun in December 2011, Mr. Garvey said religious liberty “makes an integral contribution to the common good.”

He cited that religious organizations support and provide social services, hospitals, schools and universities and food pantries.

Going back to early American history, he mentioned the Quakers who led the movement to abolish slavery and said the Catholic Church had supported the right to organized labor.

Earlier in the evening a panel discussed the issue of religious liberty. Panelists were Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference; Benedictine Abbot Placid Solari, a native of Richmond who is chancellor of Belmont Abbey College; Michael Moreland, associate professor of law at Villanova School of Law, and James Sonne, partner of the law firm of Horvitz and Levy.

While Mr. Caruso mentioned the negative consequences of the HHS mandate at the federal level, he gave a positive example of religious liberty at the state level in Virginia.

This is new legislation with “strong, explicit conscience protections” for private child placement agencies so that they “cannot be forced to participate in adoption or foster-care placements that violate their beliefs about marriage and the family,” Mr. Caruso said.

Kevin Walsh, associate professor at the University of Richmond School of Law and a parishioner at St. Edward the Confessor Parish in Richmond, moderated the panel.

In response to a question about previous litigation upholding state-imposed contraceptive mandates similar to the new HHS mandate, Mr. Walsh noted that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) would provide heightened protection against the federal government — protection that is unavailable under federal law against the states.

“The RFRA has been held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in protecting against state and local government actions that burden religion, but it continues to apply against the federal government” Mr. Walsh said.

“The state-level contraceptive mandates upheld in New York and California did not have to meet the stringent scrutiny required by the RFRA,” he said.

“By all accounts, it was a very well received event,” said Eric Gregory, president. “People came from far and wide including places like Smith Mountain Lake, Fairfax, Williamsburg, and Norfolk.”

He encouraged Catholics in the pews to follow the lead of the U.S. Catholic bishops in defending religious liberty which he says will be threatened if the HHS mandate becomes public policy.

“The Virginia bishops have highlighted and reinforced this call, and the high attendance at this event shows that this message is resonating broadly,” Mr. Caruso said.

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