On Friday June 8, 2012 cities all across the country participated in the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rallies. The following was a speech given by Deacon Bill Wakefield of the Diocese of Lexington at the Rally in Lexington, KY. It is printed here with his permission.
A small band of people came to the “New World” – in 1634. They settled in southern Maryland and adopted the first law in our history that protected individual freedom of conscience (Maryland’s 1649 Act Concerning Religion). From this earliest legal protection of conscience, we also know religious liberty requires constant vigilance and steadfast protection. It was only decades later, these early settlers were subjected to harsh religious persecutions after a change in government. Freedoms must be defended by people of fidelity and commitment to true liberty fortified with the Cardinal Virtue of Courage.
It is with courage our Founders pledged their wealth, freedom, and lives to the declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 1776). It is the courage of
Americans that continues to call-out and correct injustices. Courage brought about the abolition of slavery, courage resulted in the right of women to vote and hold office, and with courage Civil Rights reform began to call to account continued injustices among us. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. said that he and his followers “…were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage….” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963). We stand here today called to muster the courage to once again confront injustice.
“Every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshiping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.” These words (letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia, 1789) of George Washington reflect the principle that each individual has a sacred obligation to live in fidelity to their conscience. To follow ones’ conscience is to be a “good citizen” — our responsibility is to shape the moral character of culture and society. Pope Benedict XVI explains that “charity must animate the entire lives of the … faithful and … also their political activity” (10. Forming Consciences, USCCB). We cannot be bystanders or spectators — silence makes us
an accessory to sin.
Conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing truth and calling us to do what is good and to shun what is evil. Human life is sacred, we are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). Human life is sacred from conception to natural death; society has a duty to defend and protect human life, especially the innocent unborn. Conjugal love is cooperation with God to create life; nothing should be a barrier or an impediment to the giving of oneself between husband and wife. This is what a well-formed Catholic conscience tells us.
When we talk about the “sanctity of human life” we are addressing a holy topic — a God given gift. We seek only the dignity and respect guaranteed to all citizens — “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (US Constitution, First Amendment) — or prohibiting the free exercise thereof! We are asking nothing more than the right to follow our consciences as we live Catholic teaching. The “…free exercise thereof…” is not merely our ability to worship and go to Mass. Conscience calls Catholics to follow the Words of Jesus, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
Religious Freedom means we are free to make our contributions to the common good. Catholics are taught to serve others not because the others are Catholic but because we are! Because of this tenet of faith, the mandated injustice perpetrated by Health & Human Services seeks to eliminate us as a religious entity. Under the HHS definition an entity is not religious if it does more than inculcate or indoctrinate beliefs, hires others who do not hold to its faith, or service those beyond its own membership. Ridiculous!
Faith and religion are under assault; this HHS intrinsically evil mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs is only one among many. The assaults on religious entities engage on many fronts: contracting for humanitarian programs; adoption
and foster care services; Christian student organizations being expelled from campus; legal actions to impose governmental controls on internal church governance; and more….
Forty-three (43) Catholic groups and many non-Catholic entities have filed legal actions to halt these assaults. Regrettably these actions have been deemed necessary because government officials continue to pursue an unconstitutional path of governance. These officials, however, continue to expand with fervor their secular moral relativism. It is time for us to put on our breastplate of righteousness, helmet of salvation, and wrap ourselves in zeal (Isaiah 59:17). It will be a travesty of justice if any entity or individual of faith are required to participate with the intrinsic evils of this mandate. Deepening the injustice, Catholic employers may be compelled to withdraw health benefits from their employees or be forced into civil disobedience with the foreseeable consequences.
Now is the time to act: form your conscience. Be involved, prayerful, vigilant, and faithful. “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
Dcn. Bill Wakefield is an ordained Catholic deacon of 23 years, married to Cheryl for 41 years, with three great daughters, two son-in-laws, and three fantastic granddaughters. He is retired Army with 32 years of government and private sector health administration experience. Currently he serves in full time ministry with the Catholic Diocese of Lexington. Credentialing: BS, MBA, Phd, and Certified Catholic Bioethist. Best job: serving Christ, His Church, and witnessing Jesus to anyone I meet.