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Separation of church and state should be held high

The Catholic Church in the United States has benefitted, greatly at times, from the non-establishment clause in our Constitution. Although many of the earliest European settlements in North America were founded by Spanish Catholics, as the English came to dominate colonization here, Catholics quickly became a persecuted minority. Along with other “non-conforming” sects such as Quakers in the northeast and Baptists in the mid-Atlantic region, Catholics were, for many decades, barred from holding public office, voting or testifying in court proceedings.

Historian John Tracy Ellis wrote that a, “... universal anti-Catholic bias was brought to Jamestown in 1607 and vigorously cultivated in all the 13 colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia.” Catholicism, once a persecuted minority religion, has become the largest Christian denomination in the United States. Without seeking to force others to adopt our religious beliefs, Catholics and people of all faiths, or of no faith, seek to bring our values and ethics into the public sphere through political dialogue and, if necessary, protest.

While the political community and the church are autonomous and independent of each other, both are devoted to the true advancement of the citizens of our nation and of the world. The “separation of church and state” that has protected and advanced all religions in America, and that has prevented the institutionalized intolerance that many of our Founding Fathers and mothers fled, does not entail a separation that excludes cooperation or participation.

All religious bodies have a right to expect that no governmental entity at the local, state, or national level will interfere with their internal policies or try to force them to participate in practices they believe to be immoral.

On Jan. 20, the Department of Health and Human Services reaffirmed a rule forcing virtually all private health care plans to cover sterilization, abortifacients and contraception.

This is a clear violation of the separation of church and state, an intrusion that should be opposed by people of any religious denomination. In fact, leaders from the Orthodox churches, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Lutheran Church and Orthodox rabbis, among others, have expressed their opposition to the HHS mandate, noting that this is not a “Catholic” issue, but a matter of religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Chuck Colson and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik co-authored an editorial that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Feb. 10. They wrote “Under no circumstances should people of faith violate their consciences and discard their most cherished beliefs in order to comply with an unjust law.”

Father Michael J. Kavanaugh is pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Macon.

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