Diocesan News

Rally One of Many Efforts to Support Religious Liberties

LINCOLN (SNR) - Nearly 1,000 people rallied for Religious Freedom in downtown Lincoln Friday, June 8.

It was just one event in a series of efforts nationwide that concerned citizens have launched in protest of the federal government’s recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. The mandate requires religious groups to provide free contraception even if contraception is against their moral beliefs.

Greg Schleppenbach, director of the Bishops’ Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities with the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said the rally was "an opportunity for people who have concerns about these threats to religious liberty to publicly express that. It’s an important part in an overall strategy to address these very serious attacks."

Mr. Schleppenbach was one of the organizers of the event, which was sponsored by Lincoln Right to Life, Regnum Christi and the Nebraska Family Council. Demonstrators gathered in front of the Denney Federal Building to listen to various speakers, including Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz, coach and inspirational speaker Ron Brown, University of Nebraska-Lincoln law professor Richard Duncan and others.

During his speech, Bishop Bruskewitz said Catholic schools, hospitals and social services agencies would close down rather than comply with a policy that forces them to pay for contraception and other abortion-inducing prescriptions.

"We will have no choice," he stated. "We will have to follow our conscience."

He stated that religious freedom comes from God, not the government, adding that it is appropriate for people of faith to stand firm, be courageous and willingly accept the price of fighting for religious freedom.

"Whatever the cost, it must be paid," he said. "We will never have the land of the free if it is not simultaneously the home of the brave."

Mr. Schleppenbach noted that legal challenges to the mandate are already underway by attorneys general of various states — including Nebraska — and private Catholic companies.

"Certainly and unfortunately, the courts seem at this point to be our best hope. In Congress, there has been very little progress," he said.

Last March, the Blunt Amendment, which would have restored religious liberty protections to employers, was tabled in a 51-48 Senate vote. The House of Representatives has not taken it up, leaving the Supreme Court as the last refuge.

"We have to hope the courts will strike this down," Mr. Schleppenbach said.

He said there was good reason for optimism, since just days before President Barack Obama’s announcement about the HHS mandate, the Supreme Court decided in favor of a religious institution, recognizing a "ministerial exception" to employment discrimination laws.

The Court’s decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated that churches and other religious groups must be free to choose their leaders without government interference.

It’s feasible that the Court could also decide that churches and other religious groups must be free to choose whether or not they finance contraception and other abortion-inducing drugs.

Though some are apt to consider this a "Catholic issue," the HHS mandate actually has far-reaching repercussions if upheld by the Courts.

This was evident in the support of non-Catholic speakers, including the Rev. Stu Kerns, pastor of Zion Church (Presbyterian Church in America), who also spoke at the rally.

"This is an American issue," he said. "This is a constitutional issue."

Professor Richard Duncan warned, "Religious liberty takes centuries to win, but it can be lost in a blink of an eye if men and women of good will don’t step forward to defend it."

Ron Brown, who spoke as a private citizen, not in the capacity of his job as assistant Husker football coach, encouraged people to trust in the Lord as they stood up for what’s right.

"If you know Christ, you have all the freedom you need right now," he said. "You’ve got to be willing to lose your job, lose your reputation ... lose all the stuff that America offers."

Father Christopher Kubat, director of Lincoln Catholic Social Services, also spoke, urging protestors to forward emails and educational material, make comments online and write letters to the editor and to the nation’s elected officials.

"Don’t assume somebody else will do it," he said.

Mr. Schleppenbach encourages all to participate in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ "Fortnight for Freedom," a two-week observation of prayer, fasting and study that started June 21 and ends on Independence Day.

"Many great resources are available at the USCCB web site, including prayer resources and education resources that can assist us," Mr. Schleppenbach said. "There are also a number of activities at the diocesan level and at the parish level in each diocese in Nebraska."

For more information, visit www.usccb.org and click on "Fortnight for Freedom."

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