July 22, 2016

Editorial

Beyond Fortnight, we are called to be stewards of religious liberty

The U.S. bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom began on June 21, the eve of the Feast of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, and concluded with the celebration of Independence Day on July 4. The purpose of this 14-day annual observance is to call attention to religious liberty, “our most cherished human freedom,” which the bishops believe is seriously threatened in the United States of America today.

The bishops cite several examples of the challenges being made against our religious liberty. The most well-publicized example is the Affordable Care Act’s mandate, which requires most Church-related organizations to supply abortifacients, sterilizations and contraceptives despite the Church’s opposition to such medicines and procedures. Here the federal government both forces religious institutions to facilitate and fund products contrary to their own moral teaching, and purports to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their first amendment rights.

Other examples include:
 

  • State immigration laws which prohibit “harboring” undocumented immigrants, thus effectively preventing the Church from exercising Christian charity or providing pastoral care.
  • Laws designed to force Catholic parishes to change their governance structures and become like congregational churches.
  • Requirements imposed on Catholic foster care and adoption programs that force them to place children with unmarried or same-sex couples.
  • Universities that deny student organization status to Christian groups that require their leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.
  • Government contracts that require Catholic social service agencies to provide contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching.

What all of these threats have in common is a worldview that seeks to confine the expression of deeply held religious beliefs to Sunday worship or private prayer. The conviction that religion should permeate all of daily life is expressly denied. What’s more, the constitutional provision for separation between church and state—which was in part originally intended to protect religious freedom from government intrusion—is now turned upside down, and used to justify the systematic exclusion of religious expression any time or place where someone might object to it.

The Fortnight for Freedom is an important reminder that freedom is a gift from God, that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and endowed with inalienable human rights and dignity. When we forget this basic truth, all kinds of injustice and inhumanity result from our failure to protect and defend this most basic and fundamental freedom.

This election year, we must all be especially conscious of the importance of religious liberty. In a free society, voters are presented with difficult choices every time they go to the polls to exercise their civic duty, but this year it seems we are confronted with a set of maddening contradictions: Where are the candidates who are pro-life, concerned for the rights of immigrants and their families, determined to work for peace at home and abroad, unwilling to force religious institutions to violate their teachings, and willing to support religious liberty for all?

Where are the candidates who are consistent, true to their word and open to the ideas and opinions of others? Where are the candidates who are trustworthy, people of integrity? And where is there room for dialogue, for honest debate and for the building of consensus? Where is there common ground and genuine concern for the common good?

Beyond the Fortnight for Freedom, all of us are called to be responsible stewards of the gift of freedom. We must all cherish and defend the liberties—including religious liberty—that our ancestors gave their lives to achieve and defend. We are but stewards of this freedom. We do not own it, and we dare not manipulate it to our own ends.

As Pope Francis reminds us repeatedly, we cannot remain in our comfort zones. We cannot hide behind closed doors and wait until another unseemly election season is over. We must “go out to the peripheries” which, in this context, means speaking out, showing up, and casting our ballots no matter how difficult the choices may appear to be.

Being stewards of freedom, we must prayerfully discern: which candidates are most likely to serve the common good (or are least likely to do us lasting harm)? Which party platform best promotes life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Which economic policies help the poor and grow the middle class? Who is in the best position to promote international relations and fair trade? Who stands for virtue over self-indulgence, temperance over unbridled consumption and a genuine tolerance for the differences among us that is based on respect for the human dignity of all?

Beyond the fortnight, we are called to be stewards of religious liberty. If we succeed, God truly will bless America!

—Daniel Conway

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