The leader of the U.S. bishops’ religious freedom committee encouraged his fellow bishops not to lose heart, but to place their trust in God, in the ongoing battle for religious liberty. “Sometimes it might seem that fighting or struggling against threats to religious liberty is a daunting task,” Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore acknowledged, but we know that “with God all things are possible.” “And we realize that with prayer is the ultimate source of our wisdom and our strength and our pastoral love in these struggles,” he stressed. Archbishop Lori addressed the U.S. bishops at their annual fall assembly in Baltimore on Nov 11, giving an update on the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, which he chairs. He listed current affairs that the committee is keeping a close eye on, which include new state proposals requiring all health plans to cover abortions with no religious exemptions. In a similar case in August, California’s state Department of Managed Health Care declared that employee health plans at two Catholic universities limiting abortion coverage were in violation of state law. The state’s Catholic conference had deplored the action, saying it “directly targeted” Catholic institutions and calling it “government coercion of the worst kind” and a “flagrant violation of their civil rights.” Archbishop Lori singled out that case as one of particular concern to the committee. Also among the laws and regulations being monitored by the committee is the HHS mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some early abortion drugs. The federal mandate has prompted lawsuits from more than 300 plaintiffs. The Supreme Court issued a ruling affecting some of these cases over the summer, upholding the right of closely-held corporations owned by individuals with religious objections to the mandate, such as Hobby Lobby. However, more than 100 legal cases against the HHS mandate are currently open, the archbishop said. “That’s keeping us all pretty busy,” he admitted. An update to the mandate was recently released and is being studied by the bishops’ religious freedom committee. In addition, Archbishop Lori noted the growing threat to religious liberty being posed by “laws redefining marriage.” Such laws have led to businesses and religious entities being threatened with fines or closure for seeking to maintain their longstanding beliefs on marriage. Despite the ongoing challenges in the realm of religious freedom, the archbishop called for hope. “It seems that the situation with regard to religious liberty continues to be of great concern to us all,” he said, warning his fellow bishops not to grow discouraged but to be “spiritual leaders” despite these difficulties. “We love our Church, we love our people, we love our country, and we love people around the world who are suffering all kinds of discrimination and persecution,” he said.
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