(Photo: Reuters/Mel Evans)
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a proclamation Thursday in which it calls for the U.S. government, among others, to stop "discriminating" against the church -- for the sake of all Americans.
The bishops claim in their statement that religious freedom is under attack at home because the U.S. government is exercising nation-wide anti-Catholic policies, mainly in three areas -- enforcing the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate on religious institutions and allegedly driving Catholic foster care and adoption services out of business and discriminating against Catholic humanitarian services.
"What we ask is nothing more than that our God-given right to religious liberty be respected. We ask nothing less than that the Constitution and laws of the United States, which recognize that right, be respected," USCCB said in the statement.
"To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other," the bishops wrote.
Without being able to cherish full benefits of religious freedom at home, the church is less able to help those persecuted abroad, the bishops said.
"If religious liberty is eroded here at home, American defense of religious liberty abroad is less credible. And one common threat, spanning both the international and domestic arenas, is the tendency to reduce the freedom of religion to the mere freedom of worship," the statement reads.
Among violations of religious freedom abroad, although the bishops remain vague on those points, were "assassinations, bombings of churches, torching of orphanages [and other] violent attacks." The bishops' proclamation does not name specific countries or groups.
However, it is in the U.S. that the broadly cherished gift of freedom is at stake, the bishops insist.
"This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue," they said.
"Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans," the bishops said. "Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith?"
The proclamation specifically addressed several groups: "the laity," public officials, heads of Catholic charitable agencies, priests and experts in communication.
"Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas," the bishops said.
The USCCB also called for declaring the two-week period leading up to July 4 "A Fortnight for Freedom," during which Catholics should pray and focus "all the energies the Catholic community can muster" on defending religious liberty. They also asked that the November feast of Christ the King be "a day specifically employed by bishops and priests to preach about religious liberty, both here and abroad."
Particularly the Obama administration's "contraception mandate" raised heated objections from Catholics in the country and, consequently, from Christian and conservative leaders across denominations. The mandate, part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, would require religious institutions (except churches) to provide birth control options within obligatory health plans for employees. The USCCB called the mandate "sacrosanct."