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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
For a second consecutive year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week period of prayer and action from June 21 through the Fourth of July, to address many current challenges to religious liberty, including the Aug. 1, 2013, deadline for religious organizations to comply with an unjustly coercive mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide employees with health care plans covering free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs, regardless of any moral or religious objections.
Also, U.S. Supreme Court rulings expected in the next weeks could redefine marriage, and there are religious liberty concerns in areas such as immigration and humanitarian services.
Because we Americans naturally presume that freedom to practice one’s religion is guaranteed in our native land, we might find it difficult to accept that this fundamental right is being threatened.
As I understand it, the principal purposes of the Fortnight are to awaken Americans to the reality of governmental encroachments on the free practice of religion, and to invite Catholics and other persons of faith to offer prayers “for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity” (1 Tm 2:2).
Today, some voices loudly insist that religious people should be content with the possibility of going to their church, synagogue or mosque, and conducting services.
The Catholic Church teaches that religious freedom is more than simply the possibility of worshiping God. The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom teaches that religious freedom, a fundamental human right, “means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” This right, therefore, is not simply freedom to worship, but also to live according to one’s beliefs. The same Declaration taught that “the right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right” (Dignitatis Humanae, 2).
The federal government has announced its intention to force religious groups, including charitable and philanthropic institutions of the Catholic Church, to provide products and services that the Church teaches are immoral. Individual states have attempted to place unjust restrictions on the exercise of Christian charity, whether it is aid to immigrants and refugees or the provision of adoption services.
The Fortnight for Freedom is an important opportunity to highlight these and other issues that regard religious liberty in the United States today. It offers a sobering moment for all of us to realize how religious freedom has eroded over time, and to ask for God’s help in protecting such a precious gift.
But the Fortnight is an occasion for even more than that. It also represents a chance for us, as citizens and believers, to take stock of the importance of religious freedom in the American experience.
Parishes can find suggestions for prayer services and other activities on the Internet at www.FortnightforFreedom.org.
Over the next two Sundays, I ask that each parish include a petition in the prayer of the faithful, asking God to enlighten this nation and her leaders to advance and protect religious liberty for people.
Through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, the patroness of the United States, may our country continue to be one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.
Archbishop of Indianapolis