U.S. Bishops Propose 'Fortnight of Freedom'

Continue Efforts to Protect Conscience Rights

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WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 17, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. bishops have issued a call to action to defend religious liberty and urged laity to protect the First Freedom of the Bill of Rights. An April 12 press release from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said the bishops had a “solemn duty” to defend religious liberty.

They outlined their position in “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.” The document was developed by the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

“Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home,” the document declared. “It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans.”

The document sets out a range of concerns that moved them to act.

The Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that forces all employers, including religious organizations, to provide and pay for coverage of employees’ contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs even when they have moral objections to them.

Another concern is HHS’s defining which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty.

Driving Catholic foster care and adoption services out of business. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia and Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities adoption or foster care services out of business by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.

Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services. Despite years of excellent performance by the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require USCCB to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching. Religious institutions should not be disqualified from a government contract based on religious belief, and they do not lose their religious identity or liberty upon entering such contracts.

Other examples listed in the document include laws punishing charity to undocumented immigrants; a proposal to restructure Catholic parish corporations to limit the bishop’s role; and a state university’s excluding a religious student group because it limits leadership positions to those who share the group’s religion.

“Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans,” they said. “Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith?”

An American issue

“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,” they said.

“To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other,” the bishops said.

The bishops also proposed that the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, be dedicated to the theme of a "fortnight for freedom."

This period will be a special time of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action that will emphasize the double heritage of Christian and American liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country can choose a date in that period for special events that will form a national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.

“As Catholic bishops and American citizens, we address an urgent summons to our fellow Catholics and fellow Americans to be on guard, for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad,” they declared.

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On the Net:

Full text of statement: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/our-first-most-cherished-liberty.cfm