Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
The greater peril: the loss of religious freedom or the loss of religion? (Part 3)
A prospective on civil disobedience
By Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
February 16, 2013

Three generations have passed since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the non-violent civil disobedience which roused the conscience of a nation that neither the government or others in our land have the right to deny any of us our Constitutional rights. Then it was racial inequality, and today it is suppression of religion, not simply denial of religious freedom by our present federal administration. The practice of religion, thankfully, remains a matter of interior ascent beyond the power of external forces. At stake in this confrontation of the government and the Church are the morals the Church holds and teaches – its reason for being. "Render" first "to God" and to government civil allegiance, "one nation under God," not over God.

The civil disobedience of the Civil Rights Movement drew attention to its cause by actively confronting racial inequality, sitting down for lunch in a "whites only" restaurant or riding up front when directed to the back of a bus. The Church's civil action would not require any overt confrontation but an act of civil non-compliance – enjoining its cause with other conscientious Catholic and non-Catholic employers and refusing to comply with a federal administration's assault on the Church's morals and our consciences.

A case could also be made for not remitting employer and employee federal withholding taxes until the federal administration relents – setting aside collected taxes in a bank escrow account to be remitted to the government when it ceases and desists. As in the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s such civil disobedience must be made for the sake of moral values first, regardless of who supports the Church's right to teach and uphold its moral tenets and faith. The Church's political freedom is a distant second.

Religion and moral justice should not depend on rulings from secular civil courts, solely, or on an accommodation with any civil authority. This weakens the public's perception of the Church's moral standing among the faithful and in society at large – relying on a political decision and setting a legal precedence for church and state relations which until now has been Constitutionally separated, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Considering how civil movements normally begin small, one Catholic diocese publically committing itself to an act of civil disobedience would, I believe, encourage other dioceses to join in. It would pastorally go a long way in encouraging Catholic and non-Catholic businesses as well and, God willing, help move the moral compass of our country.

Some Catholic Church leaders have publically stated that they would rather risk jail than cooperate with the administration's mandate. But time is on the administration's side the closer the first of August approaches. The administration's tactics all along have been to stall and confuse while the Church appears indecisive. The bishops need to respond definitively sooner rather than later. It may take the action of just one bishop and one diocese to spell out its civil actions as recommended here for others to follow suit.

© Fr. Tom Bartolomeo


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Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

I am the founder and director of the Families For Families Retreat House, a refuge for anyone who wants to rethink his or her life in a quiet non-demanding environment in an historic house c.1709 when life was less complicated. I am also and primarily a Catholic priest having been a college and university teacher, business-owner and executive among other things. I received my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English literature from Saint John's University, Jamaica, New York and completed post-graduate studies at Kansas State University. Contact me at


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