August 20, 2019
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Religious Freedom & Marriage (1 of 3)


It’s a
great joy to be here at St. Mary’s, to be
here in this wonderful, historic, St. Mary’s chapel. It was last September that I had the
extraordinary privilege of being part of, what for me, and I think everyone here, would
have been a once in a lifetime event – the opening of the doors of this historic St.
Mary’s city chapel here in St. Mary’s county in Southern Maryland. As you know,
the colony that later became Maryland was founded in 1634 with the arrival of The Ark
and The Dove. And imagine those intrepid, brave women and men who stepped off of those
ships and began what was to flower into this state. But we’re proud of it for lots of
reasons, none more than the fact that it was the home of freedom of conscience. It was
the first application in government, right here in St. Mary’s, of religious liberty.
We Catholics take particular pride in the fact that the very first effort in colonial
America to establish guarantees for freedom of conscience and religious liberty was this,
the only colony founded by Catholics. And the Jesuit priest, Father Andrew White, celebrated
the very first Catholic mass here in the English colonies all the way back in 1634. And then
what they did was they built a wooden chapel so that there would be a house of God here.
And later on, after that church was burnt to the ground during an attack on St. Mary’s
city in 1645, a new and far more wonderful chapel was built – this, St. Mary’s Chapel
– in 1677, the original brick chapel was constructed. And this field takes its name
now from the chapel, it’s called Chapel Field. However, things didn’t go on happily
ever after. In 1704, following the decline of the political fortune of Catholics in Maryland,
and in consequence of an order from the royal governor, the sheriff, John, locked the doors
of the chapel, locked the doors of this building. In fact, we have a replica of that key that
was used to lock this chapel door so that it could never be used for worship or promulgation
of the Catholic faith. And later, the whole chapel was dismantled, brick by brick, and
all that was left was the foundation. For me, the joy of coming and joining all of you
last September was seeing this restored chapel and the doors being opened. In fact, it was
the current Sheriff who technically, I suppose, is the successor to the Sheriff who locked
the door, again using this replica of the original key, unlocked the door. And we had
the privilege of pushing open the doors, signifying once again the reopening of the chapel and
highlighting religious freedom, freedom of conscience, religious liberty. When I pushed
open those doors, I reminded the faithful who were here present, all the people who
had come for that moment that we’re always supposed to push open the doors of our heart
– push open the doors of our heart to God and God’s grace, push open the doors of
our heart in fellowship to one another, and push open the doors of our heart in justice
and freedom for all. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? It’s hard to believe that religious
liberty and freedom of conscience could have been so abused in what is now our country.
But we mustn’t allow ourselves to think that the abuse of religious freedom took place
only three hundred years ago and that it couldn’t possibly be present today. In the District
of Columbia, we just witnessed one of the strongest challenges to religious liberty,
and particularly, to the Catholic Church, present in recent years, certainly the strongest
one since an effort was made a year ago in Connecticut to radically restructure, by an
act of government, the entire Catholic Church. When the District of Columbia’s city council
enacted legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, it did so with two clear intentions. They
said they intended to redefine marriage and spouse, and then to do so without allowing
any ample, meaningful provision for religious liberty, for religious freedom. In fact, the
committee report that accompanied the bill specifically targeted religious organizations
whose teachings do not allow them to recognize same-sex marriage. The bill, as it was reported
out, said, “A religious institution is not exempt from liability if it denies healthcare
benefits to same-sex spouses of any employee.” As you can see, the issue is no longer domestic
partnerships, is no longer the question of legally domiciled adults, the issue was a
complete redefining of marriage and spouse, something that had been recognized across
all of history and across all of the world. In fact, in Washington, DC, marriage licenses
read, “spouse and spouse,” no longer husband and wife, bride and groom, and the words husband
and wife are a thing of the past. You’re declared, simply, legally married. The lack
of religious exemption was striking. Under the law, churches do not have to participate
in the same-sex marriage, nor do they have to instruct children in school about same-sex
marriage in our Catholic schools, but that freedom’s already protected by the constitution.
In all other ways, including our internal employment policies, religious organizations
now are expected to accept same-sex marriage, the new definition. An attorney working for
our United States Conference of Catholic Bishops put it this way, “The lack of protection
for religious liberty in the District of Columbia is troubling because of the potential precedent
it sets for other jurisdictions and dioceses across the country. It ignores religious freedoms
guaranteed under federal law, as well as under the American constitution, the First Amendment
to that constitution.” This was to be a whole new norm now for the nation. No effort
was made to do the one thing that happened in every other jurisdiction where this type
of marriage was approved to try to balance the two rights – this newly created right
for same-sex marriage and the right of religious freedom. In the District, that was simply
not done.

Otis Rodgers

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1 COMMENTS

  1. Gospel Readings for Kids - MisterD418 Posted on September 3, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Hi,

    I would encourage anyone concerned about this to view and sign the Manhattan Declaration.

    Reply
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