FAQs on religious liberty

June 12, 2012

What do we mean by religious liberty?
Religious liberty is the first liberty granted to us by God and protected in the First Amendment to our Constitution. It includes more than our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It also encompasses our ability to contribute freely to the common good of all Americans.

What is the First Amendment?
The First Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights states the following: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Get Informed

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo has said the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate requiring employers to provide insured coverage of contraception and sterilization gravely compromises religious liberty. 
For the first time in our history, the federal government will force religious institutions to fund and facilitate coverage of a drug or procedure contrary to their moral teaching, and purport to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit an exemption. This is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide such coverage, even when it violates our consciences.

Cardinal DiNardo and the U.S. Bishops have called on American Catholics to get informed, pray and advocate for religious liberty. What are 12 things everyone should know about the HHS mandate? What has Cardinal DiNardo said about the mandate and religious liberty? What is the Fortnight for Freedom? How can you help? 

Find out today on the Archdiocesan web pages devoted to informing you about religious liberty at 

Who have been heroes of religious liberty in the Church?
• St. Thomas More: Sir Thomas More was an English Catholic lawyer who served as Lord Chancellor and a close advisor to King Henry VIII. More opposed the king's separation from the Catholic Church and his naming himself as supreme head of the Church of England. More was imprisoned for his refusal to take the oath required by a law that disparaged papal power and required acknowledging the children of Henry and Anne Boleyn (the king's second wife after his divorce from Catherine of Aragon) as legitimate heirs to the throne. In 1535, More was tried for treason, convicted on perjured testimony, and beheaded. He is the patron saint of religious freedom.
• St. John Fisher: Cardinal John Fisher was an English Catholic bishop, academic, and martyr. Fisher was executed by order of King Henry VIII during the English Reformation for refusing to accept the king as supreme head of the Church of England and for upholding the Catholic Church's doctrine of papal primacy.
• St. Elizabeth Ann Seton: Sister Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first native-born U.S. citizen to be canonized by the Catholic Church. In 1809, Sister Elizabeth Ann founded the first American congregation of religious sisters, the Sisters of Charity. She also established in 1810 the first parochial school for girls in the U.S. in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Sister Elizabeth Ann's efforts initiated the parochial school system in America and opened the first free Catholic schools for the poor.

How was religious liberty addressed at the Second Vatican Council ("Dignitatis Humanae")?
The Second Vatican Council declared that "the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits." ("Dignitatis Humanae," No. 2.) 

Where are the roots of religious liberty?
Religious liberty is inherent in our very humanity, hard-wired into each and every one of us by our Creator. Religious liberty is also prior to the state itself. It is not merely a privilege that the government grants us and that can be taken away at will.

What has the Church said about religious liberty since Vatican II, for example, through Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI?
Blessed Pope John Paul II: "The most fundamental human freedom [is] that of practicing one's faith openly, which for human beings is their reason for living."
(Address to Diplomatic Corps, 13 Jan. 1996, No. 9.)
Pope Benedict XVI: "[Religious freedom] is indeed the first of human rights, not only because it was historically the first to be recognized but also because it touches the constitutive dimension of man, his relation with his Creator." (Address to Diplomatic Corps, 10 Jan. 2011.)
Current Concern: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate

Why does the mandate to cover contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs and sterilization, violate religious liberty?
In short, it is the element of government coercion against conscience, and government intrusion into the ordering of church institutions. As Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, testified to Congress: "This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs." (Oral testimony before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, Feb. 28, 2012.)