May 26, 2017

Editorial

Religious liberty in America and the Fortnight for Freedom

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore isn’t the only prominent voice who has religious liberty on his mind these days.

As chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop Lori speaks often for the U.S. bishops on religious freedom.

As we read in last week’s issue of The Criterion and continue reading this week, he has had a high public profile on this topic, testifying before congressional committees and leading the effort of the Church in the U.S. to promote its annual Fortnight for Freedom, a period of education, advocacy and prayer about religious liberty from June 21-July 4.

Bishops will vote in June whether to make the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty a permanent one. (See related story)

Other high-profile persons have also shared their thoughts about religious liberty.

On May 17, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. spoke to the graduating class at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., about the issue, focusing on the freedom of religion as enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution—and the encroachments on that freedom today.

Alito, 67, is Catholic and was nominated to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush, where he has served since January 2006.

Part of freedom of religion is that “no one is forced to act in violation of his own beliefs,” said Alito, in a story published by Catholic News Service. “Most of my life, Americans were instilled in this,” he added, urging his audience to “keep the flame burning.”

In an interview for the St. Charles Borromeo seminarians’ blog, “Seminarian Casual,” the Supreme Court justice also said that “our most foresighted Founders understood that our country could not hold together unless religious freedom was protected.”

Which is why, he said, George Washington, shortly after his election as the nation’s first president, “made a point of writing to minority religious groups, to the United Baptist churches in Virginia, the annual meeting of Quakers, the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, and to the nation’s tiny Catholic population.”

“Washington and other Founders also saw a vital connection between religion and the character needed for republican self-government,” Alito added. “What the Founders understood more than 200 years ago is just as true today.”

Regarding threats to religious freedom, the justice said, “There is cause for concern at the present time.”

He wrote the majority opinion in the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case in which the court ruled that the owners of closely-held for-profit businesses cannot be compelled to comply with government regulations to which they have religious objections.

In this case, the Green family of Oklahoma, who owns Hobby Lobby, opposed on conscience grounds the abortifacient, contraceptive and sterilization mandate of the federal Health and Human Services Administration (HHS).

Justice Alito also highlighted religious liberty concerns in a dissent from the majority opinion in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case, in which the Supreme Court held that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage.

Vice President Mike Pence also mentioned religious liberty in his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame in northern Indiana on May 21.

Though much publicity was given to the approximately 100 students who walked out when Pence began delivering his address, the vice president took time in his speech to recognize the university for its legal challenge against the HHS mandate.

“Just as Notre Dame has stood strong to protect its religious liberty, I’m proud that this President [Donald J. Trump] just took steps to ensure that this university and the Little Sisters of the Poor could not be forced to violate their consciences to fully participate in American civic life,” Pence said, in reference to the executive order promoting religious freedom signed by Trump on May 4.

Catholics and people of all faiths will once again have the opportunity to stand up for religious liberty during this year’s Fortnight from Freedom from June 21-July 4. The theme is “Freedom for Mission.”

For more information on the Fortnight, go to goo.gl/RxRYF.

As Archbishop Lori and his fellow members of the USCCB have said in the past: “This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.”

—Mike Krokos

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