Thomas More Society director on religion and the ‘misuse’ of government authority
(POSTED: 8/8/12) Peter Breen, executive director of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, a nonprofit law firm that focuses on anti-abortion, marriage and religious liberty, said the First Amendment is like a muscle. If not exercised, it gets flabby.
“I think maybe we grew a little bit complacent because for so long we never had to worry about it,” said Breen, a Roman Catholic and trustee for the Village of Lombard. “We said, ‘Hey, everybody’s Catholic, everything’s great. We’ve got Catholic Charities operating just fine, we can open our hospitals, we can have a church picnic, close off our streets and have a festival any time we like.’ And now all of a sudden, all of that is flipped upside down.”
Speaking last week at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church on the North Side of Chicago, Breen talked about some of the ways he believes the government is trying to infringe on First Amendments rights and religious freedom. He discussed the repercussions of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services mandate, which requires all employers providing health insurance – including Catholic organizations — to cover contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs, Catholic Charities’ role in foster care and the recent Chick-fil-A controversy in which a Chicago alderman said he would try to block a new store from opening in the city because the company’s president expressed opposition to same-sex marriage. Mayor Rahm Emanuel seemed to support the alderman’s stance, saying “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.”
“You look at what’s happening now with Chick-fil-A and with the attempted restrictions on our ability as a Church to set up institutions to act in the world, and the aim is to silence,” Breen said. “When the mayor stands up and says, ‘those aren’t Chicago values, we don’t want you here,’ it’s not an invitation to debate. It’s: ‘the debate is over. You lost. Go away.’ And even to the point where you would use government power to make people go away.”
In response to the Chick-fil-A incident, people crowded restaurants around the country and waited in long lines to buy chicken sandwiches. It wasn’t about the food, though, Breen said.
“We are supporting the freedom to have religious beliefs that you choose, the freedom to do business as you see fit and to let the market decide, the freedom to exercise your religion in the public square without being afraid of it.”
“Who would have thought eating a chicken sandwich would be a political statement?” he added. “But it was about this misuse of government authority. It’s such a serious issue right now. We keep hearing the election will come down to jobs and the economy, jobs and the economy — and it will, all elections do — but folks do still care about these deeper issues of what is the purpose of government? What is it here to do? What is it not here to do?”
Despite some of these challenges that Catholics are facing, Breen remains optimistic about the Church’s future. To help enact change, he encouraged Catholics to get active in politcal campaigns.
“With things being as they are, there are bad things happening, but there are good things happening, and to some extent, our reaction, that’s what we can control,” he said. “There are 2.3 million Catholics [in the Archdiocese of Chicago] — potential voters who could be impacting and shaping the culture. So when they ask you to make phone calls and do those annoying things you really don’t want to do, do it. That’s what we as Catholics, as lay people, have to do. The bishops can only do so much of it.”
By Katie Drews, for ChicagoCatholicNews.com