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Religious Liberty

Jim Landers takes a photo of relics of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher at the Fortnight for Freedom opening Mass last year at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. Landers' great-great-grandfather, Daniel Lawson Moore, was a relative of St. Thomas More. (CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review) Jim Landers takes a photo of relics of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher at the Fortnight for Freedom opening Mass last year at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. Landers' great-great-grandfather, Daniel Lawson Moore, was a relative of St. Thomas More.
By Carrie Handy, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington
 
“Religious freedom is not only that of private thought or worship. It is the liberty to live, both privately and publicly, according to the ethical principles resulting from found truth.”
     --Pope Francis, Conference on International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values, June 2014
 

Imagine being a high-ranking public official with the respect of your peers, renown throughout the nation; your esteemed career has made you a trusted adviser to your country’s leaders.
 
And then, imagine having these very people force you to choose between your principles and your alliances, at the cost of your life.
 
Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII, faced just such a choice and was beheaded for holding to his principles.
 
Fortunately, no one in this country today is at risk of execution for refusing to obey laws they consider immoral. Our Founding Fathers saw fit to protect religious freedom as a fundamental right—not only the right to practice religion according to one’s conscience but also to be protected from coercion into acting against conscience.
 
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean conscience protections are without threats. Beliefs about the sanctity of life and the meaning of human sexuality are particularly vulnerable, as Catholic principles about these topics, once considered mainstream in American society, gradually are being marginalized.
 
Abortion on demand, same sex marriage and legal assisted suicide are the most prominent examples of this here in Vermont. But it’s no longer just about moral objections to these practices; in some instances, individuals and organizations face the possibility of having to choose between obeying the law or their consciences.
 
For example:
 
 Doctors in Vermont are legally required to supply patients with information on assisted suicide when asked or refer them to those who will. There is no clean “opt out” for health care providers who morally object to this practice, although a recent court decision clarified that doctors do not have to volunteer this information unless asked. Unfortunately, even referring to another provider can be construed as legitimizing a practice deemed morally wrong.
 
 Last year the Vermont legislature refused to allow a conscience exemption clause in a law mandating employers to fund insurance coverage of contraception (some forms of which may act as abortifacients) and sterilization. As the law stands, Catholic churches and schools in Vermont must fund these practices in their health care plans.
 
 In the neighboring State of New York, a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City was forced to take part in the abortion of a 22-week- old unborn child in 2009, and saw no resolution of her complaint to the HHS Office of Civil Rights until 2013, despite the existence of a law intended to protect against this type of coercion. Hers is not an isolated case.
 
Nurses have been told by Vanderbilt University and by a state-run medical center in New York that they must assist in abortions against their consciences. The Conscience Protection Act of 2017 was introduced in Congress in January in response to these and similar violations.
 
While we can expect the freedom to act according to conscience in 2017 without facing martyrdom as St. Thomas More did, it will likely take a sustained and united effort to ensure universal protections of conscience and religious liberty. In order to shine a light on the many issues related to religious liberty and conscience protections both here and abroad, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops again this year will sponsor Fortnight for Freedom, a prayer and public education initiative which takes place beginning on June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More— and ending on July 4, Independence Day.
 
Learn more.
 
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Last modified onThursday, 06 July 2017 09:38
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Article selections and press releases submitted for publication with Vermont Catholic.

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