Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C., has announced changes to its employees' health care benefits. Normally, this wouldn't be big news. But this story isn't only about deductibles and co-pays-it's about the increasingly fragile state of religious freedom in the America.
Employees were told that starting March 2, Catholic Charities would "not offer benefits to spouses of new employees or to spouses of current employees not already enrolled" in the health plan. Spouses currently covered under the plan would still be covered.
The timing of the changes wasn't a coincidence. On March 3, same-sex "marriage" became legal in the District of Columbia. In connection with the new law, the D.C. Council insisted that, as a city contractor, Catholic Charities had to offer the same benefits to same-sex couples that it did to heterosexual ones.
In other words, Catholic Charities had to choose between church teaching and ministering to the city's neediest residents.
To put it mildly, the Council wasn't sympathetic to the Archdiocese's concerns. One Council member called them "childish."
It's also no surprise that the D.C. Archdiocese is being portrayed as the villain. The Washington City Paper's headline ran "To Avoid Funding Gay Marrieds, Catholic Charities Denies Benefits to All Spouses," with the emphasis on "all." In case the reader didn't get it, the City Paper added a visual reminder: a picture of a rosary.
There's no recognition that what the Washington Post called a "bitter debate" between the District and the Archdiocese was, in fact, a profound infringement of religious freedom–an infringement done at the behest of a tiny minority within a tiny minority.
Nor was there any acknowledgment that these kinds of infringements aren't limited to government contractors. Ordinary people are being asked to choose between their livelihood and obedience to their faith-like photographers, landlords, and caterers.
You will also search in vain for mainstream media coverage of the indispensible role played by Christian institutions in caring for the vulnerable and marginalized. Almost 25 percent of the world's AIDS patients are cared for in Catholic institutions alone. Christian hospitals in the U.S. serve a disproportionate percentage of the urban poor.
All we read about, however, is the Catholic Church's "stubbornness" or "recalcitrance."
But it's not just Catholics. All faithful Christians engaged in charitable work increasingly are being told to choose between serving their neighbors or following the dictates of their faith.
This threat to religious freedom was one of the driving concerns behind the Manhattan Declaration. Interestingly enough, one of the original signers was Archbishop Wuerl of D.C., who refused to bend to the District's demand. More than 425,000 people have now pledged not to "comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions" to do that which God has forbidden.
Christians no longer have the luxury of sitting idly by while religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and the institution of marriage come under more assault.
Please join us-Christians must stand together. Go to ManhattanDeclaration.org, read the document, and sign it today. Get your friends to do the same.