More Religious Liberties Oppressed by Obama Administration
By Bob Laird
In a blatant disregard for the First Amendment of the Constitution, the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain (Major General) Donald L. Rutherford, a Catholic priest, issued an order forbidding any Army chaplain from reading a letter to Catholics issued by Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese of the Military Services. Broglio issued the letter in response to the Obama Administration’s order (via the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS]) requiring all but a few religious organizations to provide sterilizations, abortifacient birth control, and contraception in all health plans. Rutherford’s directive caused Broglio to contact the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, who admitted that Rutherford was in error. Thus, the letter could be read at all Masses with the exception of one line (read on). For Broglio and his military chaplains, rendering to God was the just response in this case and not rendering to Caesar.
Catholic bishops around the country wrote to their faithful over the past week describing their dismay when the Obama Administration “cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty.”
The bishops’ strong collective reaction was caused by the January 20th announcement by the HHS that,
All employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those “services” in the health policies they write. Almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage . . .
Broglio, the canonical head of all Catholic chaplains in the military, issued his letter and Rutherford’s office sent a directive countermanding the Archbishop’s instructions and asked that the letter not be read. Broglio knew that the Chief of Chaplain’s directive was a violation of free speech and brought the subject to the attention of Secretary McHugh. McHugh agreed that Rutherford was in error. He was concerned that the line “We cannot – we will not – comply with an unjust law” could be construed as civil disobedience. While it was reported that Broglio reissued the letter without the line above, the line remains in the letter on the Archdiocese of the Military Services website.
Rutherford, a priest ordained for the Diocese of Albany, NY, is also bound by obedience to his Archbishop. He was named the Chief of Chaplains on July 11, 2011, just 11 days before the President issued his order repealing “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” allowing gays to serve openly in the military. The Chief of Chaplains of the other military services (Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard) did not object to Catholic chaplains reading the letter.
Broglio is not only protecting his chaplains and the Catholics whom they service, but he is also providing his priests with legal tools to deal with subsequent situations whereby their First Amendment rights may be violated. In a letter sent to Army Chaplains, the Archdiocese of the Military Services wrote:
The Archdiocese believes that any attempt to keep a chaplain from freely teaching and preaching the Catholic faith, for which you were endorsed, is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution. If any of you are in any way punished or slated for punitive action, I ask that you kindly call our Archdiocesan Attorney … and he will immediately place you into contact with a Religious Freedom Law Firm that will be most willing to take your case free of charge.
That Religious Freedom Law Firm is most likely the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Becket recently succeeded in winning a 9-0 decision in the U.S Supreme Court Case regarding Hosanna-Tabor v. U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission: that “religious groups should be free from government interference when choosing their leaders.” Becket Fund also is the first legal firm to file suit against the Obama Administration’s contraceptive mandate, representing Colorado Christian University and Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina.
Interestingly, the U.S. Air Force Academy recently accommodated “pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches and followers of native American faiths” with an $80,000 “circle of boulders with a propane fire pit” because, in the words of Chaplain (Major) Darren Duncan, “It’s a First Amendment issue.” Obama’s military seems to accommodate every religion but Catholicism.
Let’s not forget individuals such as St. Maximilian Kolbe, who died in a prison in 1943 because he was a Catholic and refused to embody the atheistic principles of the regime. We may not be far from that situation in the United States today. In response to Catholics who are skeptical about the seriousness of this current situation, speaking from the pulpit on February 5th one priest emphasized that, “This will become very serious business when there are no Masses because there are no priests because all of them are in prison for protecting your Freedom of Religion.”
Bob Laird is the President of the Cabrini Center for Catholic Health Care