Sun mischaracterizes bishops' statement

November 16, 2011

Thanks to the Sun's recent mischaracterization of the Maryland Catholic bishops' statement on religious freedom ("Bishops assail same-sex marriage," Nov. 10), many readers responded to one element — only five paragraphs long — of a 12-page document well worth reading carefully.

The statement, "The Most Sacred of All Property: Religious Freedom and the People of Maryland," cites several examples of the problems that arise when government policies conflict with the deeply held moral and religious beliefs of individual citizens and religious institutions. The examples illustrate an increasing erosion of long-standing provisions that have been in place to protect religious institutions from being required by government to participate in activities that conflict with those beliefs.

As the statement points out, for example, that very situation is reflected in the proposed mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that all employers provide free coverage of contraception, including abortifacients, in their health insurance plans. The mandate includes no genuine exceptions for religious institutions to opt out of this requirement on the basis of their beliefs. Critics love to ridicule the Church for its stance on birth control, but this emerging insistence that the Church and others must comply with policies that conflict with their religious convictions is no joking matter.

Without a doubt, the impending debate in Maryland on the question of redefining marriage brings with it myriad questions about rights, liberty, and the relationship of religion and government. The new statement by the bishops of Maryland acknowledges the gravity of those questions and urges all people in Maryland to give deep and serious thought to their implications.

Mary Ellen Russell, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

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