At what point do my rights as a Catholic begin?

As a Catholic who voted in this past election, I went to the polls with one thing on my mind. The choices of who was running for office did not matter in the end, as all I can see is the slow death of my individual rights - freedom of religion, in particular - with no end in sight.

It is not those in public office alone who are to blame; rather, this is the direct result of the increasing secularization of society, and we are allowing it to happen by remaining silent. Our religious freedom is being jeopardized, and it isn't to the sound of protesting against - the screams are for it.

The Health and Human Services mandate that requires religious employers to cover contraception in employees' health insurance is not the only thing to cause alarm, just the most recent issue in the news.

Every day, Catholicism is ridiculed, without repercussion or hesitation about the extent of offensiveness to which one can go. This is seen on television, in movies, throughout the internet and on Facebook. We stand against bullying in schools, yet we allow it when it comes to the ridicule of Catholicism.

At what point do the rights, needs and wants of others stop, and our rights as Catholics begin?

The Church's stance on abortion, marriage, morality and religious freedom is believed by many to be what is offensive or intrusive, when the Church is just holding the same stance it has for centuries.

For example, the Church's stance on the right to life - particularly in regard to birth control and abortion - is seen as infringing on a woman's right to choose, yet the Church is now being ordered to disregard morals and pay for both.

The Church's definition of marriage is seen as discriminatory, when in actuality it is holding its ground on what we believe, as Catholics, to be the natural union intended by God.

Some speak of beginning to tax the Church, yet forget that this will hurt those who are in the pews donating, those who are served through Catholic Charities worldwide and those who attend Catholic schools, to name a few. The Church provides more services worldwide than any other organization.

These are just a few of the demands being pushed onto the Church - sidestepping one of the foundations of our country, the separation of church and state. This is a blatant disregard of freedom to worship, the guaranteed right of those who make up the Church to practice their faith without infringement.

At what point are our rights as Catholics protected?

The Church has always stood as the moral compass of society, one that isn't swayed by the popular vote. In my opinion, if the Church had been set up as a democracy, it would have collapsed long ago.

Can you imagine what we would be professing if the majority voted on each line of the creed? Would we still truly rely on our faith in God for salvation or believe in the "mysteries of our faith," such as the Trinity? The moment when I pick and choose what to believe from the creed is the moment that I can no longer call myself a Catholic. Each line is inseparable from the others, as, collectively, they are the foundation of our faith.

Christ instituted the Church Himself, calling upon the Apostles to spread the Gospel message of salvation through Him. Each of us is called in baptism to that mission, so we need to ask ourselves: How am I spreading the Gospel now? How will I be able to without religious freedom?

As a Catholic, I believe that anything from or for God surpasses any human desire, law, mandate or infringement on my will to worship and follow Christ. What will the growing secularization of our society and the rising number of people claiming to be "spiritual but not religious" lead to in the end?

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago hypothesized, "I expect to die in my bed; my successor will die in prison; and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history."

This scenario is not extreme, seeing the path we are on now. I pray that we intercede as practicing Catholics, so that the Church can continue to worship, provide for and build our society freely now, without the need for martyrdom to be our wake-up call.

(Brian Kelly is a seminarian studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. A native of Newtonville, he was formerly business manager at Holy Trinity parish in Cohoes.)