“I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What would you do without freedom? Will you fight?...Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you'll live -- at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!!!”
William Wallace- Braveheart
Almost every great movie carries some echo of the Gospel. This single scene from the movie Braveheart captures a deep and profound truth, that liberty (freedom) and dignity are inseparable. Wallace is speaking to men during the wars of Scottish Independence. The Scots have lost their freedom to the English King, and under his heavy hand, their dignity. Freedom, properly understood, is essential to human dignity.
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says it this way, “The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person." To say it from the other direction, the dignity of the human person is always compromised without the exercise of freedom in moral and religious matters. For Catholics, it is (or should be) deeply troubling to see advocacy for “human dignity” in the absence or reduction of “freedom and liberty”, and equally troublesome to hear the rally cry around “freedom and liberty” absent the imperative of “human dignity”.
Under the guise of “human dignity”, the Department of Health and Human Services has attempted to pry these imperatives apart. HHS has essentially posited that a woman’s fertility is somehow antithetical to her dignity as a person, mandating that most health plans provide contraceptives, including those that are abortifacient (along with abortion counseling services). The mandate represents a kind of “tyranny” against the religious freedoms of those who see a woman’s fertility as normal, natural, beautiful and God-given.
Pope Francis recently stated, “Religion must not be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society.” The narrowness of the HHS exemption (which applies only to houses of worship) is exactly the action Pope Francis warns against- relegating religion to the inner sanctum of the personal life, and by extension, subjecting all of public life to arbitrary governmental standards of morality.
While this is not new clash, the pitch of the battle has a new urgency and intensity. The ramifications of the loss of religious liberties, and with them, the loss of personal dignity, are far reaching. The unintended consequences could be tragic for the faithful, and for the culture at large. Abraham Lincoln stated in response to a reporters question, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.” Modern government would do well to heed the wisdom of this great president.