Religious Freedom Under Threat at Home

On Friday, Catholics throughout the United States will begin observing two weeks known as the Fortnight for Freedom. For a second consecutive year, the U.S. Catholic Church has set aside this time leading up to Independence Day to draw attention to the need to resist erosions of religious liberty so that faith can continue to enrich our public life.

How appropriate that the Fortnight should begin with a nationally televised Mass from our own Basilica of the Assumption, the first Catholic cathedral in the United States. Blessed Pope John Paul II once referred to the Basilica as a worldwide symbol of religious freedom. President Thomas Jefferson assisted in the Basilica’s uniquely American design — the brainchild of architect Benjamin Latrobe, who also designed the U.S. Capitol. The Basilica is the embodiment of what it means to be both Catholic and American, the intersection of faith and public life that is at the very heart of the Fortnight for Freedom.

Almost two centuries after the Basilica was completed, why do so many people want faith removed from public view? Why has it become counter-cultural for believers to openly discuss their faith? Why are they discouraged from bringing their faith-inspired values to the public square and to their places of business? Why, when people from nearly every sector of our society promote tolerance and acceptance of almost everything, do they still seek to marginalize God and all things of God? We hope Catholics will spend the Fortnight considering these questions and others.

After all, faith plays an integral role in our collective efforts to promote the common good. Faith inspires people to serve their neighbors, it brings people together, it enriches the national conversation on important public issues, and it centers the lives of countless Americans. And religious liberty protects this important role that faith plays.

From our nation’s earliest days, faith has held us together through some of our darkest moments, including times of war and national crisis. Faith has also inspired us to be better members of a human family fractured by racism, violence and poverty. Catholics and other people of faith have brought their religious values to the public square as they’ve led our country through some of its greatest social challenges. They’ve led the fight for laws that advocate for the poor and vulnerable, civil rights, responsible immigration reform, and respect for life from natural conception to natural death.

Faith inspires ministries like Catholic Charities, which serves more than 400,000 people each year in the Baltimore area. Each year in our archdiocese, Catholic hospitals care for 1.9 million people annually, and Catholic schools and universities educate nearly 40,000 students. Those who work in these great Catholic ministries live their faith day-in and day-out.

They live the truth that Pope Francis has proclaimed: We’re not called to be “part-time Christians,” we’re called “to live our faith at every moment of every day.” As we strive to answer this call, we know that religious freedom protects more than the freedom to worship on Sunday; it also protects our ability to live out our faith the other six days of the week.

Yet the government is eroding this fundamental freedom. To take one example, the Department of Health and Human Services has mandated that religious employers fund and facilitate health coverage that violates their deeply held beliefs or risk crippling fines, restricting the freedom of faith-based social service providers to continue serving the common good in a way that respects their beliefs.

When the HHS mandate is implemented, the poor and those who serve them will be hurt the most. Faith-based schools, hospitals and charitable institutions will be forced to choose between violating their religious beliefs or violating the law and paying steep fines — fines that will undoubtedly restrict their ability to serve those in their care.

The HHS mandate is but one incursion on religious liberty over recent years, among many others. Some states have driven local Catholic Charities out of adoption or foster-care services because these charities wouldn’t violate their beliefs. Universities have denied organizational status to faith-based student groups when they refused to water down their teachings. And school districts have barred the off-hours rental of public school facilities by churches while allowing non-religious groups to rent the same spaces.

Faith contributes greatly to public life. Unfortunately, threats to faith and the religious liberty that protects it are growing. The upcoming Fortnight for Freedom is an opportunity for Catholics and people of all faiths to educate themselves and others about these threats, praying and working together as we stand up for religious liberty — the “most cherished of American freedoms.”

This editorial (16 June 2013) originally appeared in the Baltimore Sun. Reprinted with permission.

Most Reverend William Edward Lori, S.T.D., was installed as the Sixteenth Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore on May 16, 2012. In 2005, he was elected Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, where he has the responsibility of overseeing the spiritual welfare of the Order's 1.8 million members and their families. On September 29 2011, New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) appointed Archbishop Lori the chair of a newly formed Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty to address growing concerns over the erosion of freedom of religion in America.
Articles by Archbishop Lori:

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  • petesalveinini

    With respect, I must protest “too little too late”. The bishops today are getting what happens when bishops past ignore heaven-sent prophecy. I’m referring to O.L. of America prophecies. In 1958 Our Lady came to a contemplative nun, whose spiritual director was the Arcbishop of Cincinnati, to thank the Americans for building and just dedicating the now Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. In response, she wanted to give America a specific statue of her own AND she requested that it be solemnly installed in the new church collegially and publicly with attending faithful to the last niche available. She said that if this were done, she would make that church a place of great graces, turning our people back to God and and virtue. She went on to say that God wanted our youth to be healthy ambassadors of chastity to the youth of the world, and that families be places of the indwelling of the Trinity as in the Holy Family. She spoke of how America had been graced with natural abundance more than any other nation and that the vocation of the nation was to help other nations to solve their temporal problems and to argue for peace. (The Ohio archbishop approved and canonically recognized this message before he died). Our Lady THEN SAID IF HER WISHES WERE NOT DONE AMERICA WOULD HAVE MUCH TO SUFFER. The hierarchy at the time IGNORED THIS PROPHECY. Of course, heaven knew what was soon to come, if her requests were ignored. In rapid succession, the banning of prayer in the schools, the pill, the sexual revolution that came from that, the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam War, Roe vs Wade, the ’70’s stagflation, the devastating way Vat II was implemented with an anti-supernatural and alien spirit of revolution, the loss of vocations priestly defections, the sexual abuse and many more evils that have only intensified to our day. Our Lady wanted to pre-empt all that. The hierarchy was simply SPIRITUALLY DENSE. Almost 50 yrs later in 2007 behind closed session the hierarchy WAS RE-PRESENTED WITH THIS PROPHETIC MESSAGE BY THREE BISHOPS, (one of whom was then Archbishop Burke, who has subsequently given a cannonical evaluation of that earlier Archbishop of Cincinnati in the affirmative). The response was perhaps only 10% favorable of the gathered bishops. However, it is not known if this presentation was sufficiently fully reported (as above), about her requests or if this was presented as a nice but OPTIONALl private devotion rather than what it really was a PROPHECY TO AMERICA through a private revelation. This was especially ironic in that all those dire consequences since 1958 were evident to anybody. It has turned out the EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT OUR NATIONAL VOCATION WAS STATED TO BE! The bishops DID however re-dedicate our nation IN SECRET ( yet to be made public, as if ashamed to have it known?!) with the original consecration 150yrs before to the Immaculate Conception. THAT VERY NOVEMBER THE UNKNOWN BARRAK OBAMA MADE HIS ENTRY INTO THE PUBLIC ARENA FOR THE PRESIDENCY! So the bishops in Nov. ’07 repeated the error of NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO AUTHENTIC PROPHECY — just as the Ruanda hierarchy did, which led to a million slain in three months. The hierarchy has MISSED ITS TIME OF VISITATION. And STILL THEY ARE UNAWARE, SPIRITUALLY DENSE, TRYING THEIR OWN SOLUTION IN PLACE OF WHAT HEAVEN ASKED FOR IN THE FACE OF PRESENT NEW DANGERS. Let me suggest an alternative to these anemic fortnight campaigns. How about doing WHAT WORKED IN THE PAST: a MASSIVE, PUBLIC ROSARY CAMPAIGN, UNRELENTING IN THE PARISHES, WITH PROCESSIONS AS WAS DONE IN BRAZIL IN ’60 THAT PREVENTED A MARXIST TAKEOVER. HOW ABOUT THAT CULMINATING IN THE SOLEMN INSTALLMENT OF A STATUE OF O.L. OF AMERICA, IMMACULATE VIRGIN BY THE WHOLE HIERARCHY AROUND AND INTO THE NATIONAL BASILICA. In other words, why doesn’t the hierarchy realize (since Fatima and other approved interventions of the Mother of God this should be a no-brainer) that Our Lord WANTS HIS MOTHER TO BE THE MAIN AGENT IN SAVING US IN THESE TIMES, IF ONLY WE SIMPLY DO WHAT SHE SAYS?! The devout among the laity GET THIS. It STILL appears that the Bishops, save a couple of dozen or so DO NOT! Since there are just now many new and bishops being installed, may we entertain the hope they will open their eyes to the prophetic intervention by Mary to our own nation AND PUBLICLY ACT ON IT?

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Can we at least get the Bishops behind us on this? The Laity, of course, needs to take the lead- this is supposedly still a democratic republic (though it looks less like one with every election as partisanship takes over more and more) and thus the laity are the “least competent authority” in the political realm, not the Bishops. But it would help a great deal if the Bishops would do their duty as “least competent authority” in the spiritual realm.

    Some immediate actions that need to be taken:

    1. The Archcare scandal in New York means we need to immediately examine and renegotiate any contract with any group that violates Catholic teaching. Contracts that do and which cannot be renegotiated, need to be canceled and the programs that they serve, closed and shut down immediately. There should be no exceptions.

    2. Time to get tough on politicians who preach heresy. They should first be approached privately and asked to publicly retract their opinions, and if they refuse, then public press statements of excommunication are in order, complete with full accountings of correct church teaching on the issues. Far too many politicians have gotten along for far too long declaring that they are Catholic while *directly* preaching against parts of articles 1-9 of the Catechism in law.

    3. Time to implement the Dallas Protocol with some vengeance- accused priests and even Bishops need to be put under a vow of silence in the cloister until such a time that other evidence clears them. They should not, unlike Fr. Fugee in New Jersey, be allowed contact with the general population, let alone going on retreats with teenagers.

    These are three necessary items that the Bishops have failed to do, that undermine the political work of the laity. If these three things were done, our job as lay Catholics living in this vale of tears that is American Politics in the 21st century would be much, much easier.

    Until these three items are accomplished, Catholicism as a whole has no hope of political power in the United States- not even enough to protect religious liberty.

  • john

    For the conversion of those Catholics who vote for politicians who support the killing of unborn babies, we pray to the Lord….should be included in the prayers of invocation at every mass celebrated throughout the world. The bishops would do well to consider this.

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