A new "edict of toleration" is needed

A new "edict of toleration" is needed

Tomorrow will be the highlight of our 10th year anniversary celebrations as we gather as a university community to celebrate our patronal feast, the Annunciation. 

We are Our Lady’s university, and the beautiful bas relief on the front of the Oratory reminds us each day of Mary’s “yes” to God, her breathtaking humility and her unfailing trust of and invincible love for Jesus.  We will have Mass at 5pm followed by our annual steak dinner on the mall (weather permitting, otherwise we move inside).  And then some musical entertainment will follow to cap off the night.  I look forward to having our student body and University community together for this joyful occasion.

Divine Providence has chosen the feast of the Annunciation in 2014 as the day when the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the Obama administration’s unlawful health insurance mandate.  Ave Maria University filed a federal lawsuit against this mandate because it requires religious employers like us to be complicit with the government’s efforts to make abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and other contraceptive services available for free to our employees under the health plans we offer. 

One need not wonder why many other provisions of the so-called “Obamacare” legislation have been delayed or diluted by administration fiat but that the contraception mandate has not.  Never before has there been a more arrogant display of government hostility toward the sincerely held religious beliefs of private and non-profit employers than this.  This is what the zealotry of ideologues looks like.

The Obama administration deliberately picked this fight and it is fair to ask why the Little Sisters of the Poor, and little Ave Maria University, are being forced to choose between following the law and following the dictates of conscience. 

There are many parallels in history where U.S. governmental authority has sought to usurp the rights of Catholic institutions, but in my lifetime there has not been one more brazen.  Defenders of the contraceptive services requirement will shout “war on women” to defend why free birth control s and abortion-inducing drugs should be a free entitlement for women of all ages, regardless of financial need.  But what really is taking place isn’t about an imaginary war on women but instead a war on religion and religious institutions.

And in the annals of history, it has ample precedent. 

Last week a delegation of Ave Maria University trustees, donors and their spouses made a pilgrimage to Rome and the Vatican.  We toured the Cathedral of St. John Lateran and learned about Constantine’s efforts to introduce the lawful practice of Christianity to the pagan culture of ancient Rome.  Constantine’s “Edict of Milan” in 313, two years after the Emperor Galerius (a persecutor of Christians) reluctantly issued an “edict of toleration,” protected the rights of this religious minority (which seventeen centuries later now commands two billion adherents worldwide).

Why can’t the Obama administration follow suit with a similar edict? Why does the White House advocacy for tolerance in what constitutes lawful marriage turn so intractably intolerant when it comes to the protection of religious viewpoints such as those we hold?

Ave Maria University realizes that the Catholic Church’s position on contraception is not shared by the majority of Americans.  But why the heavy hand of the department of Health and Human Services requiring our conformance to its secular worldview?  Why the threat of crippling fines if Ave Maria does not comply by November 1?

I am hoping the nine justices of the Supreme Court will ask these questions and more when they convene on Tuesday morning.  While the Court decision won’t come until this summer, the oral arguments will provide insights into what might ultimately happen with our lawsuit (that has been stayed pending the High Court’s ruling).   

As we gather to celebrate the great feast of the Annunciation, let us pray that the Court will be guided by wisdom, uphold our nation’s tradition of protecting the free exercise of religion, and relegate to the ash heap of failed governmental intrusion these overreaching and ill-begotten regulations. 

I can think of no better birthday present for our founder Tom Monaghan (he turns 77 Tuesday) than that!