Defending Religious Liberty in the U.S.

Archbishop John J. Myers Speaks on This Year's Fortnight for Freedom

Rome, (Zenit.org) Junno Arocho Esteves | 1342 hits

The Second Annual Fortnight for Freedom currently being held comes at a pivotal time for the Catholic Church in the United States. The two week event calls attention to the issue of religious liberty in a time where government mandates and court rulings threaten the sanctity of marriage and respect for human life.

Although it has been a tough year, Christian-owned businesses and organizations  have fought back against the US Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate, which would compel employers to provide coverage for contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization procedures to employees. Recently, Hobby Lobby, a Christian owned chain of arts and crafts stores in the US, scored a major victory which barred the enforcement of the mandate on the company.  

US Bishops are rallying the faithful to heed the call to defend religious liberty. Among them is Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, New Jersey. With over 1 million Catholics, the Archdiocese of Newark is encouraging the faithful to counter the wave of secularism, which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI warned would “delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.”

Archbishop Myers’ spoke with ZENIT on this year’s second Fortnight for Freedom and what challenges are currently facing the Catholic Church in the United States.

ZENIT: Your Grace, this is the second Fortnight for Freedom in the US. Are there any new challenges that threaten religious freedom now compared to last year during the first FoF?

Archbishop Myers: We continue to face many of the same challenges, but they are now magnified.  The final rulings from the Obama Administration on the HHS Mandate, the recent Supreme Court rulings redefining marriage – They’re perfect examples of the state of the attacks on freedom of religious expression.     The Supreme Court decision, for instance, now makes it mandatory for the federal government to recognize same-sex “marriages” in states that provide for it.   

The vote by the Texas legislature against restricting abortions also is a setback, but my hope is that it’s a temporary one.

On the other hand, the recent Hobby Lobby court decision, which says that a private business whose owner has strong religious beliefs, cannot be compelled to include medical services --  like contraception and abortion coverages  -- that are contrary to his beliefs.  

These are clear indications that we need to continue to organize and promote not only a Fortnight for Freedom, but to maintain a year-round Fortnight for Freedom urgency to protect our constitutionally-guaranteed Religious freedoms are critical.

ZENIT: As you know, the US Supreme Court recently ruled the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. What are your thoughts on this ruling?

Archbishop Myers: About the only silver lining that I can see on this decision is that the Supreme Court did not require that all states must recognize same-sex unions as marriage.    But it truly is a miscarriage, in that the Court did not uphold the voices of the millions of Californians who voted to protect the unique nature and meaning of marriage as a union of man and woman.

ZENIT: A recent Pew Research study showed that there is a 5-1 bias in favor of same-sex "marriage" by the US Media. Aside from the Fortnight for Freedom, what else can the Church do or has done to announce the truth on the sacredness of marriage despite this obvious bias?

Archbishop Myers: This is one of the key fallacies in all of the arguments that the media make.  Theology and doctrine are not based on polls, but unfortunately, most of our society is highly influenced by media and their polls. As I’ve said on a number of occasions in recent years, some in the Church seek a Church which never was and never will be, rather than joyfully  join the communion of the Church as it is.  For almost two generations catechetics moved from presenting clearly the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it has been entrusted to and reflected on by the Church.  In recent decades, the emphasis all too often has been on “feeling good.”  The parameters were set by the current understanding and feelings of the teachers and the students.  They imposed limits on the Gospel.  Some have called it the “balloons and bubble-gum” period of catechetics.  For this reason, the New Evangelization is so important now. We may have lost or at least left at a distance two or more generations of Catholics. They do not know even where to begin in sharing the faith with their own children and with others.

I see much promise in the way that the recently and newly ordained here in the Archdiocese are living the New Evangelization, and teaching the faith accurately and clearly.  I believe such efforts ultimately will strengthen people as they hear, understand and embrace the faith.

ZENIT: Has there been any progress for religious organizations in your archdiocese that are fighting against the deadline to comply with the HHS mandate?

Archbishop Myers: As I said earlier, the Hobby Lobby case is a very positive sign.   Here in New Jersey, no litigation is underway, but we’re praying and offering our support for those hospitals, schools, Catholic Charities and other organizations that are challenging the law.

The rest remains to be seen now that the Obama rules have been finalized.  

ZENIT: What are your hopes for this year's Fortnight for Freedom? Are there any words of encouragement that you may offer to our US readers?

Archbishop Myers: I have to say that I was somewhat shocked when I read about the President’s remarks in Ireland last month about Catholic schools encouraging “division” and discouraging “cooperation.”   We know that to be a false statement, and it quite frankly puzzles me because President Obama, Vice President Biden, and countless others in government service and in the private sector attended and graduated from Catholic or other religiously-affiliated schools. Our government, and our American way of life, have benefitted greatly from both public and parochial schools.  

It is my hope that, by continuing to emphasize the goal of the Fortnight for Freedom – to ensure that our Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom to live publicly all that we believe – Americans will finally begin to understand that it is not religious belief and practice, but rather the move to limit religion belief and practice, that divides and discourages.   

The adage “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” may have been coined during the days of the American Revolution or the time of the Abolitionist movement, but it surely is relevant for us today.  God’s grace at this time is most important.