(CNSNews.com) – Top Catholic laymen and clergy warned Thursday that religious liberty is under fire in America.
“I venture to say that, never in the lifetime of anyone present here, has the religious liberty of the American people been as threatened as it is today,” said Carl Anderson, the supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.
Anderson and hundreds of other American Catholic leaders gathered Thursday in Washington D.C., for the eighth annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. The topic was “Religious Liberty: Threatened at Home and Abroad.”
Anderson, head of the 1.8 million member Catholic fraternal service organization, delivered the opening remarks.
He cited a U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) mandate finalized earlier this year under Obamacare to require nearly all health insurers to provide contraceptives and sterilizations free of charge, including drugs that can induce an abortion. Anderson also noted a recent Supreme Court case, Hosanna –Tabor v. EEOC, where the justices unanimously ruled against the administration’s attempts to restrict religious exemptions in hiring to “employees who perform exclusively religious functions.”
According to Anderson, not even Christ could meet that requirement.
“But if the HHS mandate and the Hosanna-Tabor case have been among the most egregious assaults on religious liberty, they are not the only ones,” Anderson said “Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services denied renewed funding of the Catholic Church’s work with victims of human trafficking.”
Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, a Catholic nun who serves as the superior general of the Sisters of Life, read part of a letter from a church saying that it had survived for 151 years, through the Civil War, the Great Depression, epidemics, floods, and social upheaval but now may have to curtail its mission unless the HHS mandate is significantly altered.
“What war and disease could not do to the congregation, the government of the United States will do, it will shut them down,” Donovan said.
Archbishop Francis Chulikatt, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, talked at length about the importance of religious liberty and how it was being undercut and threatened by moral-relativism
“The illusion that moral relativism provides the key for peaceful coexistence is actually the origin of divisions and the denial of the dignity of human beings,” the prelate said. “The Church cannot possibly allow that immorality is imposed on its faithful. What is at stake here is the future of humanity itself.”
He added: “Religious liberty is not based on a relativistic understanding of humanity but on the truth about human nature and the same can be said about the freedom of conscience, which does not justify any private opinion whatsoever but rather requires the exercise of conscience which is rooted in the objective moral truth of God’s law.”
The archbishop did not specifically mention the HHS contraception mandate, but instead referred to it obliquely.
“Finally I would like to acknowledge and applaud the work being done by the bishops and faithful leaders in the United States to ensure that religious freedom is respected in this country and around the world,” Chulikatt said.