“Where Are You Going, America?” Abp. Naumann’s Challenge to the Nation

We celebrate Independence Day this year in the shadow of the Supreme Court’s recent decision affirming the constitutional authority of the individual mandate (and indeed, the ability of Congress to tax inactivity), and as the last day of the USCCB’s Fortnight for Freedom. As part of the Fortnight, I went with two buses full of Prince of Peace parishioners, to the Religious Freedom Rally on June 29, at the state capital, in Topeka.

There were a number of excellent speeches from both politicians and religious leaders, but I especially enjoyed the one by my own archbishop, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann. His speech is a wake-up call to Americans to protect their liberty, and it’s timely. Here, courtesy of Fr. Shawn Tunick, is the full text of the Archbishop’s address:


Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Religious Freedom Rally
Topeka, Kansas
June 29, 2012
Annibale Carracci, Domine quo vadis? (1602)

Quo Vadis? These Latin words translate into English: Where are you going? This phrase, made famous from a scene described in the apocryphal Acts of St. Peter, has become part of popular Christian legend in which Peter, fleeing Rome at the time of Nero’s persecution encounters the Risen Jesus. Peter asks Jesus: “Quo Vadis?” Where are you going? Jesus replies: I am going to Rome to be crucified.

This encounter reminds Peter of his cowardly denial of Jesus during His passion and crucifixion. Peter realizes that he is committing the same mistake again by abandoning the living Jesus in His Church at the hour of crisis. Peter turns around and returns to Rome where he is martyred.

Today in the Catholic Church’s calendar, we celebrate the Feast of the Great Apostles, Peter and Paul. I imagine Our Lord is asking the question of us and our country that Peter posed to him: Quo Vadis? Where are you going America?

Where are you going America, when our own federal government attempts to limit severely religious freedom, the first constitutional right in our nation’s Bill of Rights? Quo Vadis America, when the current administration attempts to narrow religious liberty to include only the freedom to worship? Where are your going America, when our government considers women’s fertility as a disease to be suppressed and pregnancy as a disease to be prevented? Quo Vadis America, when this Administration defines a religious entity so narrowly that Mother Theresa and her Missionaries of Charity would not qualify?

Americans have always understood the free exercise of religion to be the first and most precious right. Religious liberty for Americans always included, not only the right to worship, but also the right to live according to our conscience.

The arbitrary Mandates, promulgated by the Department of the Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Reform Act, are perhaps the most egregious threat to religious liberty in our nation’s history. The President’s so-called accommodations have changed and corrected nothing.

This Administration has deceptively attempted to portray the HHS Mandates as an essential measure in the provision of health care for women, feigning the existence of a crisis regarding the availability of contraception and abortion inducing drugs. They have attempted to demonize anyone who objects to this encroachment on religious liberty and conscience rights as waging a war against women.

The reality is that we are gathered here today to just maintain the status quo, not to advance any agenda. It is the Administration who has chosen to pick this fight at this particular time. It is they who are waging a war against women and men of Faith.

Why was there no discussion of these Mandates during the months of debate over health care reform? Why was none of this specified in the more than 2,000 pages of legislative text? Does anyone really think there is a crisis regarding the availability of contraception? For Americans, who desire contraception as a lifestyle choice, it is readily available and inexpensive. The federal government already spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually to give away free contraceptives to the poor.

Quo Vadis?, stained glass window,
St. Peter’s (Westum, Germany)

The HHS Mandates are not about access to contraceptives. They are about the federal government saying to people of Faith that it is not enough that you live in a culture where contraceptives are readily available, where tax dollars are already used to provide them, where they are given out in some public schools to minors without parental permission. Now we – your government – are going to force you (the Catholic Church or any Church or individual Christian or person of Faith who finds contraception and abortion morally offensive) to participate in the provision of them.

Regardless, of one’s personal belief about contraception as a life-style choice, every American should be outraged at this assault on religious freedom. For if the federal government can do this to Americans, who believe contraception and abortion to be evil, then what prevents this same government from coercing other Americans to violate their deeply held moral convictions on any other matter.

The HHS Mandates are by no means the only threat to Religious Liberty in our nation. Several states no longer permit Catholic Charities to provide adoption or foster care services. Similarly, Catholic Social Agencies, who have longed distinguished themselves in their service to victims of sex-trafficking, are now being denied federal contracts because of our refusal to provide contraceptives and refer for abortion.

We are so blest as Americans. The United States historically has been a beacon of hope for the entire world on matters of religious freedom and conscience protection. Many individuals in our nation’s history have made heroic sacrifices in order to defend these precious liberties. They endured much more than standing for a couple of hours in this severe summer heat. We must not fail at this moment to exercise our citizenship and
make certain that our voice is heard.

Where is America going? Perhaps, the more important question is: Where, as Americans, are we going to permit it to go? Your presence here today demonstrates your desire to turn America around, to return it to the principles upon which it was founded and which made it great. You are here today because you want to protect and restore our first and most precious liberty.

Let the cry go forth from Topeka, Kansas to the President, to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to the Congress, to the Supreme Court, we will not accept, we will not acquiesce, we will not tolerate our liberties to be diminished or robbed from us. We will pray; we will advocate; we will vote; and we will never, never, never give up our religious liberty and conscience rights! Thank you and God bless!


  1. I fear we are missing the point. As someone wrote somewhere in the blogging world, the early Christians did not complain of the infringement on their freedom when they were being martyred, but spoke of Christ. God is testing the Church on a teaching it has ignored for decades. And our response seems to be to continue to fail to preach the evil of contraception, and instead to talk only of freedom of conscience. Preaching freedom of conscience will not save the world and we are only feeding more into the individualist and relativistic mindset by very much seeming to give the message, “You can use contraception, just don’t make me pay for it.” This is a great opportunity to boldly proclaim the gospel, but instead we’ve turned it into a discussion of political philosophy. I could be mistaken, but ever since I first heard this suggestion on a blog, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.

  2. Excellent speech by Abp. Naumann! Now we laity need to support our bishops. Too long we of traditional values have complained about the lack of leadership from the pulpit. Now we are seeing it; now we must support, affirm, and fall in line behind our leaders in faith!
    Thank you Archbishop Naumann for your courageous words!

  3. I agree with Carl that we, as Catholics, may be missing the mark when we don’t talk about why we believe what we believe about contraception and abortion. But, the Abp makes a valid argument that all Americans should be concerned about. I also think that this is the start of a framework that the Federal Gov’t is building to seize individual liberties on a much broader scale. If you can tax someone for not buying anything, what is to stop the HHS from implementing some sort of population control policy? It is the next big thing that I think will come out of this mandate. After all if there is free abortion and birth control for all, then the government can make you justify why you should have one, two, or any children at all. The HHS can decide many things under Obamacare because the legislation is deliberately vague on specific powers that are granted to the HHS. The argument will no longer be over religious freedom at that point. This is not a conspiracy theory, this is now our reality!

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