Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., speaking this week on "Fox News Sunday," said the federal government must take care not to penalize religious expression.
The government should never penalize religious expression because that would violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Catholic Church in America has always enjoyed a fundamental constitutional right to freely express its religion.
"The church has always been the public effort to meet issues like feeding the hungry, providing care for people in need, the homeless, that we would always be a part of that, and to do that today we need to be all the more respectful of the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religious expression of everyone of us," says the Cardinal.
Yes, there is no question about it; the Church must be permitted to go about its religiously oriented ministrations free from government interference.
But the good Cardinal isn’t really concerned about government interference with his church’s right to religious expression. No; what he’s really concerned with is keeping the uninterrupted flow of generous taxpayer funding in support of those activities while insisting that there be no strings attached. He wants government money without restrictions or any sort of regulations which might conflict with church doctrine.
"One of the things that our conference of bishop has done in response to some of the regulations and some of the difficulties that our Catholic institution are finding is to call all of us to reflect again on the importance that in a pluralistic society, the importance of respecting the religious traditions, the religious freedom, the freedom of conscious of everyone," Wuerl explained.
Yes, in a pluralistic society like ours, it is important to respect the religious freedoms of everyone, but, of course, that is not the point. If the government, because of its insistence upon compliance with its regulations, stops giving his church money that amounts, in the mind of the Cardinal, to government interference with religious expression.
At issue with the Cardinal, among other things, is the fact that the Obama administration in September denied funding to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help victims of human trafficking because the bishops refuse to refer victims of the slave trade to contraception or abortion services.
The Department of Health and Human Services, prompted by a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, decided to award the grants only to agencies that would refer women for those services. Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry calls that evidence of a government "war on religion."
Federal laws provide that no funding can be given to groups that directly provide abortion services and religious organizations cite that in support of their efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. Yet when the laws operate against them upon similar grounds they bitterly complain.
"We serve whether it's in education, catholic charities, whether it's in relief of migrants, immigrants, whether it's in social service ministry," said Wuerl. "We serve people all over this nation. What we don't do is violate the conscience of all of us involved there's some things we won't do but that should be respected because it's always been respected."
That’s all very commendable, well and good; the Catholic Church must be permitted to continue doing those things without government interference.
And without taxpayer money.