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Taking a Stand for Religious Liberty

Denis GrasskaBy Msgr. Dennis L. Mikulanis

If it was the old Soviet Union or modern-day China — or maybe North Korea or Saudi Arabia —  one might not be so shocked at the news. However, this took place in the United States of America, where freedom of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. In fact, it occurred right here in San Diego County.

The first news came from an internet blog which, at first glance, was so ridiculous it was dismissed as a crank blog. The news persisted until it sounded like there might be some substance to it, but still, it was so absurd that it was beyond belief. Finally, the May 30 edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune carried the story at the top of page one: “County won’t force permit on Bible study leaders.”

Basically what happened is this: A Protestant pastor in Bonita was holding Bible study classes in his home. There were some neighbors displeased about the fact that people were gathering to do this, so they complained to the authorities.

A county code enforcement officer warned the pastor that he couldn’t hold a Bible study in his home without a permit, because it was considered a “religious assembly” and they were saying things like “Amen!” and “Praise the Lord!”

Thankfully, thinking people who heard about this began to bombard county officials with letters and emails protesting this infringement of religious liberty. The county immediately backed down.

One has to wonder what the county would have done had Christian people not taken a stand for the religious liberty that is our right in this country. A disgruntled neighbor complains about another’s Bible study and an overzealous and apparently anti-religious county bureaucrat threatens legal action if the Bible study doesn’t end immediately. Imagine the implications for everyone had the county persisted in this foolishness!

Many founding members of Catholic parishes in San Diego — San Rafael Parish being one of them — remember when daily Mass was celebrated in a tract home bought by the parish as the first “base of operations” until larger and more appropriate space could be found. Would the police have had to raid the Mass to stop it, because some neighbors were offended?

In all the ways that evil is working against people of faith, the restriction of freedom of religion is the most subtle. In 2000, a Catholic church was attacked by arsonists, but the San Diego Police Department and the ATF (which investigates arson of religious sites) abruptly gave up the investigation after only two weeks, because they said the clues ran cold (despite a description of the car and partial license place of the arsonists). Actually, one thinks they were just too indifferent to proceed.

Can an anti-abortion, pro-life candidate run for political office in this country and have any real hope of success? Are Catholic universities willing to stand on Catholic principles in what they teach and whom they invite for special honors, or is their desire for social acceptance and federal dollars more important?

We can all be lulled to sleep without our even knowing it. Every one of us needs to look at our own actions and ways of thinking to determine our fidelity to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Have we become so comfortable in our society that we are willing to compromise the truth for social acceptance? Do we form our conscience from the dictates of a political party or the teachings of the Church?

Catholics are approximately 25 percent of the population of this country. Does it show?

The Southern Cross

This commentary first appeared in the June 2009 issue of The Southern Cross.

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