Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Our nation was founded on the principle of religious toleration and individual freedom of conscience. Neverthe-less, the current administration recognizes no limits to government's power to usurp the free exercise of religion.

From the beginning of our history, we have relied on the services of religious organizations to run most of our hospitals and many of our schools and orphanages. They have provided hospices, homeless (relief), soup kitchens and disaster relief. They have done so more efficiently and effectively in part because they are often staffed by volunteers and deeply committed members of the communities in which they serve.

In what amounts to death by a thousand cuts, government at all levels is now placing intolerable financial and moral burdens on such charities.

Some examples:

'Obamacare' requires every institution that provides health insurance to their employees to provide contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations at no cost to the patient. They must do so, even if they are willing to recommend other providers of such services. Bridgette Dunlap, a Fordham law student, claims that she is being deprived of free contraception. Fordham is a Catholic institution. The law school tuition is $47,360/year. Local Planned Parenthoods, which are heavily subsidized, provide financially needy patients with contraception at essentially no cost, and yet Fordham is being forced to pay for treatment when doing so is deeply inimical to Catholic teaching and principles. This is not about denying women contraceptives or abortions. It is about denying contraceptives or abortions funded by those particular religious institutions. Asserting their well-established First Amendment rights, religious organizations are fighting such rulings.

In Massachusetts, every adoption agency, whether or not it receives government funding, must be willing to adopt children to gays. It is not sufficient that they recommend gay couples to adoption organizations which are eager to adopt to gays. Catholic social services had been arranging 60 percent of the adoptions in Massachusetts. The Catholic Church has since been forced to close down its adoption services in Massachusetts on pain of betraying its core principles. It is being forced to do so in Illinois and in other states.

The Salvation Army has been prohibited from requiring its social workers and other employees to sign an endorsement of their mission to 'preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.' Whether or not one agrees with the Salvation Army, its programs are based on that religious vision. That is their mission.

Taken together, such government policies represent a massive escalation in the attack on religion in this country. Many religious charitable institutions in this country will be forced to close their doors or to violate their core beliefs. If religious organizations are being forced to betray their values, how will individuals resist government coercion? As justices Kagan and Alito wrote in their concurring opinion in Tabor:

Throughout our nation's history, religious bodies have been the preeminent example of private associations that have 'act(ed) as critical buffers between the individual and the power of the State. . .

We must all stand with the Catholics. First they came for the Catholics, but they will not stop with the Catholics.

Chana Cox, U-Choose Education Forum, is emerita at Lewis and Clark College. She lives in a rural area outside of Scappoose.

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