Sunday, October 13, 2013

Obama orders shutdown of Catholic Mass; threatens arrest of priests

As the government "shutdown" enters its third week (during all this time, only about 23% of the government has been shut down, by the way) the Obama Administration continues to play politics....and worse.

We heard last week how the official presidential golf course remained open, while US veterans were denied access to the WWII and Vietnam Memorials because of the "shutdown". We heard how Michelle Obama's fitness website was kept functional while the national Amber Alert system was shut down (until protests intimidated Obama into finally turning the system back on).

But perhaps most ominous is that active US military Catholics are being denied Holy Mass. Using the government shutdown as his excuse, Obama saw - and took - the opportunity to aim his arrow at his most coveted target: Christians.

Catholic military chaplains are being denied access to military bases to say Mass supposedly because of the shutdown. Because the chaplains are paid contractors to perform Masses, Obama felt it was not a justifiable expense. The kicker though is that some priests are offering to say the Masses free of charge. Obama's response to their offer has been a resounding no. 

This happened recently to Father Ray Leonard, who serves at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia, but was not allowed to celebrate Mass this past weekend. Father Ray is contracted by the Defense Department to meet the spiritual needs of Catholics, but the chapel doors were locked with a sign affixed that said, “Shutdown: No Catholic service till further notice.” Protestant services on the naval base were allowed to continue, by the way - only Catholics were denied services, including marriage preparation, baptisms, confirmation and the like.

Father Leonard had this to say about it: “This is our church. Catholics have an expectation and obligation to attend Mass and we were told, ‘No you can’t go to church this week…“ My parishioners were upset. They were angry and dismayed. They couldn’t believe that in America they’d be denied access to Mass by the government.”

As a result of this astonishing attack on religious freedom, the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, MI, has filed a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Fr. Leonard, who served Tibetan populations in China for 10 years, informed the court in an affidavit; “In China, I was disallowed from performing public religious services due to the lack of religious freedom in China. I never imagined that when I returned home to the United States, that I would be forbidden from practicing my religious beliefs as I am called to do, and would be forbidden from helping and serving my faith community.”

On October 4, 2013, Fr. Leonard was ordered to stop performing all of his duties as the base’s Catholic Chaplain, even on a voluntary basis. He was also told that he could be arrested if he violated that order. The approximately 300 Catholic families served by Fr. Leonard at Kings Bay have been unable to attend Mass on base since the beginning of the shutdown. The nearest other church is about 16 miles away - not a feasible option for those on base without cars or whose extremely busy schedules do not permit the time it would take to walk 16 miles to Mass, attend it, and walk back.

Additionally, Fr. Leonard was locked out of his on-base office and the chapel. Fr. Leonard was also denied access to the Holy Eucharist and other articles of his Catholic faith. The order has caused the cancellation of daily and weekend mass, confession, marriage preparation classes and baptisms as well as prevented Fr. Leonard from providing the spiritual guidance he was called by his faith to provide
US Congressman Tim Huelskamp said, “Time and time again this Administration demonstrates it is waging a war against the very religious freedoms upon which America was founded. This is exactly why we worked to pass legislation (House Concurrent Resolution 58) this past weekend – to protect the religious liberties of all those who bravely serve in our Armed Forces."
What's particularly bad is that we would have to pass resolutions in America to restore the very rights upon which our country was founded - rights that President Obama does not believe we should have. The worst thing we could do is dismiss this action as an isolated incident that means nothing. On the contrary, this is an unmistakable move by Obama to advance his war on our religious liberties. And being that Obama has repeatedly shown hostility to Christians, this action against military Catholics -- much like the HHS mandate -- is direct government interference with our right to religious freedom. It's critical that we not lose sight of the fact that a country without that profound and fundamental right is not a free country at all.

What do you think?  Click on the comments link in the bar below to share your thoughts. No registration necessary.

UPDATE: Late yesterday afternoon, in response to the lawsuit, three attorneys from the Department of Justice contacted TMLC attorney Erin Mersino by phone and indicated that Father Leonard could resume all of his religious duties beginning this morning, and that the Chapel would be open for all Catholic activities.  These representations made by the Department of Justice attorneys were confirmed by orders to Father Leonard delivered through the Navy chain of command.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, said, “The actions of the Federal Government were a blatant attack on religious liberty. I would never have imagined that our Government would ever bar Catholic Priest from saying Mass under threat of arrest and prevent Catholics from participating in their religious exercises.  Allowing the Chapel doors to open and Father Leonard to fulfill his priestly responsibilities does not erase the Constitutional violations that occurred.  We don’t want this to occur again the next time there is a government shutdown. Our lawsuit will continue.”

No comments:

Post a Comment