Bishop Hartmayer addresses religious liberty, encourages witness in letter

May 25, 2012

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Earlier this year, I wrote you to express my deep concerns about a grave moral matter – one that I perceive to be a direct threat to our constitutional freedom to exercise our religion and religious conscience without governmental interference.

On February 15, 2012, the United States government enacted a Federal Mandate requiring Catholic organizations to provide access to abortion inducing drugs, sterilization services and contraceptives for all employees, in direct contravention of our Catholic values and religious teachings.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has attempted to negotiate with the Obama Administration and has worked to pass legislation through Congress to remove these barriers to the free exercise of our religious beliefs.  These efforts to date have failed to accomplish our goals of removing the Mandate.  With time running short, and despite the fact that efforts to negotiate with the Administration are ongoing, it became necessary to seek redress through the legal system.

You may have heard that this week 43 Catholic dioceses and organizations from across the country filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Federal Mandate as an abridgement of our First Amendment rights.  This challenge to what we believe to be an unprecedented attempt by the Federal government to regulate our religious convictions is necessary to protect our ministries and the fundamental religious freedom we currently enjoy.

Although the Diocese of Savannah is not a party to these lawsuits, I stand in full support of my brother Bishops and the Catholic dioceses, hospitals, schools and church agencies which filed the lawsuits challenging the Mandate. It is also important to note that the various plaintiffs that filed the lawsuits represent a broad cross section of the Catholic community and institutions which are reflective of the wide array of persons and ministries nationwide that would suffer adverse consequences from the Mandate. We must stress that the concern is not about whether people in this country should have access to the services covered by the Mandate; it is rather about whether the government may force religious institutions and individuals to fund services which violate our religious and moral beliefs. I am confident in the strength of the broad effort to seek legal redress in the courts and I applaud and fully support it.

Along with Catholics throughout the United States, I ask you to join in a “Fortnight for Freedom” – a period of prayer, study and public action for our American heritage of liberty during the 14 days from June 21 to July 4.  You are asked to keep our country in your prayers during these perilous times.  Personal prayer and fasting are the devotions to which the Church has always sought refuge in times of crisis.  Take time to deepen your understanding of the Church’s teaching on religious freedom which is grounded in both Scripture and natural law.

On Sunday, July 1, I will celebrate an outdoor Mass in Forsyth Park at 10:30 AM, to commemorate our country’s commitment to the First Amendment guaranteeing us Religious Freedom.  I hope that many of the parishes throughout the Diocese of Savannah will be represented.  Please bring blankets and chairs.  I hope to see employees of our Catholic parishes and schools, St. Joseph-Candler Hospital, Social Apostolate, the Pastoral Center, Knights of Columbus and Peter Claver, the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women and the various Catholic ministries in attendance.

Through the Southern Cross and our diocesan website, I will keep you up to date on the progress of this important issue.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.
Bishop of Savannah

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