June 17, 2016

Reflection / Mike Krokos

Religious liberty should be the most cherished of American freedoms

“We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other. Our allegiances are distinct, but they need not be contradictory, and should instead be complementary. That is the teaching of our Catholic faith, which obliges us to work together with fellow citizens for the common good of all who live in this land. That is the vision of our founding and our Constitution, which guarantees citizens of all religious faiths the right to contribute to our common life together.”

So begins “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” a 2012 statement on religious liberty by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty released a few months before the first Fortnight for Freedom that June.

Four years later, the Church in America is remembering those words and again observing June 21-July 4 as its fifth annual Fortnight, with this year’s theme being “Witnesses to Freedom.”

The USCCB this year, according to Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops’ ad hoc committee for religious liberty, is asking us to lift up for reflection the stories of 14 women and men—one for each day—who bear witness to freedom in Christ, such as Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, Blessed Oscar Romero, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Martyrs of Compiègne, and the Egyptian Coptic Christians who were killed for their faith by Islamic State militants last year.

Archbishop Lori shares in this week’s issue of The Criterion his insight on the purposes of the fortnight and what he hopes and prays results from this year’s observance.

Don’t let anyone tell you any different: Religious liberty continues to be under attack on our home soil and abroad.

We only need look at the continued legal wrangling concerning Zubik v. Burwell, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) contraceptive, abortifacient and sterilization mandate being challenged by the Dioceses of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Erie, Pa., the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame and several other groups to understand how religious liberty can no longer be taken for granted. We hope and pray that the lower courts which have been ordered by the Supreme Court to review their decisions come to a more favorable result for faith-based institutions.

Overseas, Christians are being persecuted and even killed by the Islamic State and other groups who fail to see people of different faith traditions as their brothers and sisters.

And we continue to be told by many in today’s society that it’s OK to practice our faith in our church buildings, but we must refrain from living it and sharing it in the public arena.

During the next two weeks, we ask all people of faith to make a concerted effort to choose one—or more—of the USCCB’s five ways to celebrate the Fortnight for Freedom. They include:

  1. Pray for religious freedom;
  2. Learn more about religious freedom by forming a study group or hosting a religious freedom movie night;
  3. Get together and celebrate religious freedom with a picnic or barbecue;
  4. Share photos of Fortnight celebrations on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram;
  5. Make a pilgrimage to Washington to take part in the closing Fortnight for Freedom Mass at noon on July 4 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

In conjunction with Stonyhurst College in England, the bishops have also coordinated a U.S tour of relics of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, two exemplary Christians who bore witness to freedom in the face of a government that sought to violate the conscience rights of its citizens. Stops on the tour include Miami, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and six cities in Minnesota—St. Paul, Cloquet, Bemidji, St. Cloud, New Ulm and Rochester.

More in-depth resources for the annual Fortnight are available at www.fortnight4freedom.org.

As the bishops said in their 2012 statement, “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.”

May we each do our part to protect this most cherished of American freedoms.

(Mike Krokos is the editor of The Criterion.)

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