In 2012, Pope Benedict spoke about his worry that religious freedom in the United States is being weakened. Two years later, that threat has not abated.
A number of issues from healthcare to immigration continue to undermine and chip away at freedom of religion nationally and globally, and leaders urge everyone to stand up and protect their rights.
The Diocese of Charleston is doing its part by participating in the third annual Fortnight for Freedom, which kicks off June 21 with a 10 a.m. celebration of Mass at St. Mary Church in Greenville, followed by a eucharistic procession led by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone.
The fortnight runs June 21 to July 4, a time when the liturgical calendar celebrates a series of martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power: St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, St. John the Baptist, and Sts. Peter and Paul.
This year’s theme will focus on the freedom to serve the poor and vulnerable in accord with human dignity and the Church’s teaching.
Bishop Guglielmone said they continue to protest the same basic principle, which is that the federal government should not be able to dictate the terms or definition of religious activity.
For example, the health care mandate requires employers to provide for services such as sterilization and contraception that defy Church teaching. The government has ruled that churches are exempt from the mandate, but Bishop Guglielmone said that leaves a lot of church-affiliated organizations on the hook.
“Religious activity isn’t just worship,” he said. “We’re talking about freedom of religion, not freedom of worship.”
He said people are commanded by Jesus and their faith to do all they can to help others, to participate in outreach activities that go hand-in-hand with the Church, such as feeding and clothing the poor, providing medical care, and helping immigrants. Yet none of these agencies of the Church are exempt from the health care directive.
The bishop mentioned that the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision — a religious freedom challenge to the HHS mandate against for-profit businesses — is expected to occur during the fortnight. He said people and parishes should consider hosting events surrounding the announcement of that decision.
Yet the HHS mandate, which is being fought in states across the country, is just one issue that threatens religious freedom.
Some areas of concern include:
s Catholic foster care and adoption services. Many Catholic agencies have been driven out of foster and adoption services because they refuse to place children with same-sex couples, or unmarried couples.
s State immigration laws that infringe on what the Church considers charity and pastoral care.
s Discrimination against small church congregations. In New York, for example, churches cannot rent schools for worship service, but non-religious groups can rent those same schools for a variety of reasons.
The bishop encourages everyone to participate in parish and community activities and, above all, to pray.
“It’s a public consciousness-raising activity,” he said. “We’re hoping to change the hearts of those in control.”
Other events include televised Masses at the Baltimore Basilica on June 21 and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on July 4.
Join the Call to Prayer Facebook page to receive weekly emails on prayer and fasting for religious liberty, or find ways to engage in the Take Action campaign on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website (www.usccb.org).
You may also find diocesan activities and prayer resources on the U.S. bishops’ website.