Americans will gather around Thanksgiving tables this week to reflect on the past year and give thanks for the blessings of family, friends, and fundamental freedoms like religious liberty.
For Peter, his gratitude this holiday is simple: “I’m thankful for shelter and food.”
Earlier this fall, Peter stood outside the signature red doors of The Bowery Mission in Manhattan, homeless and hungry, crying out to God: “Please give me a second chance.”
Through the resources and support of The Bowery Mission staff, Peter’s prayers are being answered. The Bowery Mission, which has served the neediest in New York City since its opening in 1879, provides a range of food, shelter, and counseling services to men, women, and at-risk adolescents. Medical care, addiction recovery and life-skills programs, and youth development not only meet the immediate needs of the addicted or homeless, but also help individuals move toward self-sufficiency.
The results of the Mission’s programs are impressive. The Bowery Mission Transitional Center, ranked as one of the most effective programs in New York City, has helped more than 1,500 men move out of the city’s shelter system and toward independence.
The Mission’s robust food service program—which has been likened to the “busiest ‘restaurant’ in New York City”—serves an average of 900 meals a day. On Thanksgiving Day alone, Bowery Mission will serve more than 5,000 meals to those without families or a home, providing new coats to each guest who dines in the Mission’s chapel that day.
The motivation and purpose behind The Bowery Mission’s robust work is clear. The board of directors and staff of the Mission are dedicated to living out their Christian faith, obeying the command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” by serving those most in need in their community. Like many faith-based organizations, The Bowery Mission serves individuals regardless of background or creed—seeking only to serve the “least of these” in the most effective, relational way.
The work of faith-based organizations like The Bowery Mission provides the backbone of a robust civil society able to efficiently and effectively meet people’s needs. Regrettably, recent government overreach and disregard for the religious freedom of faith-based groups to continue helping others in accordance with their faith—the same faith that motivates them to serve in the first place—threatens the invaluable work of these institutions.
Ironically, while The Bowery Mission and many other faith-based groups provide food and shelter this holiday season, the Obama Administration will continue to defend its anti-conscience mandate that strips such organizations of the ability to serve in accordance with their beliefs. The Obamacare mandate that forces almost all employers to pay for coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization—regardless of moral or religious objection—is already threatening the important work of countless religious employers.
As Americans gather around Thanksgiving feasts to bow their heads in gratitude this week, many will give thanks for the blessings of the right to religious liberty—a freedom not only to believe or teach certain doctrines, but to live out one’s faith in all aspects of life.
For the many families and employers embroiled in lawsuits against the Obamacare mandate, those prayers of Thanksgiving will be mixed with petitions for perseverance as they continue to demand respect of one of America’s most cherished freedoms.
Policymakers—and all Americans—would do well to join their vigilance in protecting the integral work of faith-based groups by respecting and defending their religious liberty—this holiday season and beyond.