What religious freedom is for.
I'm writing this week in the midst of the "Fortnight for Freedom" declared by the U.S. Bishops as a time of prayer, study and penance for religious freedom. From time to time in our democracy, as citizens we need to renew our dedication to the founding freedoms that have made America so exceptional. If we don't, we risk forgetting history's lessons and we risk forgetting why these freedoms are so important.
As Christians, we also have a duty to be lovers of freedom and defenders of the freedoms we love. Church history teaches us that we have to struggle for these freedoms; they have never been given to Christians for free. St. Paul used to say, "For freedom Christ has set us free!"
Jesus did not set us free from sin and death so that we could serve ourselves. We are set free for God — to love him and to serve him. We are set free so that we can be his instruments in bringing his salvation to our brothers and sisters.
Some people in our government and in the media say that we're exaggerating when we talk about religious freedom being threatened. We're not exaggerating. The actions proposed by our government are real. They threaten our ability as individual Christians to live the way that Jesus wants us live. They threaten the Church's ability to carry out her mission.
But I think the biggest threat we face is our own indifference — or our feeling that this struggle doesn't really affect us personally. When we talk about "freedom of religion," it can seem like an abstract concept. It can seem like something that's maybe important in principle but doesn't really have much to do with our everyday lives.
And it's true that we are free today to go to church, to read our Bibles, to pray in our homes, and to read religious publications and find religious programming on television and the internet.
But religious freedom means more than that — because being a Christian means more than that.
Being a Christian means living with Jesus and worshipping him. It means living according to his words and example. It means carrying out his commandments — to love and to tell others about him. It means working to create a society that reflects the ethical and spiritual values of his Gospel.
That is what this struggle for religious liberty is about. It's about making sure each of us has the freedom to carry out our Christian duty to evangelize and to serve others in love. And it's about making sure that the Church is free too — as the institution established by Christ to carry on his mission in the world.
I've been reflecting on the saints that we remember in the Church's liturgical calendar during this two-week period. Of course, the Church calendar wasn't created with the Fortnight for Freedom in mind. The Church has been remembering these saints on these dates for centuries — centuries before our country was even founded. Still, I find it striking to think about how many of saints that we remember during this fortnight were martyrs for freedom — who stayed true to Jesus and his Gospel in the face of persecution from political authorities.
The fortnight began on the vigil of the feast of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. They were executed because they refused to bow to the political pressures of King Henry VIII — who demanded that they accept his "supremacy" over the Church and that they deny the Church's teachings on the sanctity of marriage.
Also during this fortnight, we remember St. John the Baptist — who was also executed by a tyrannical king for defending God's law for marriage.
We remember too during this period the first Martyrs of the Church of Rome, from the very beginnings of Christianity. And on June 29, we remember the greatest of these early martyrs, St. Peter and St. Paul. All of these courageous men and women suffered death to defend the freedoms that we often take for granted. All of them used their freedom in Christ to transform their societies. From within. By the force of their love and their example.
We are called — each one of us — to the same mission in our society. Let's ask the intercession of these martyrs during the final days of this fortnight. And as we pray for one another this week, let's try to find some sacrifice, no matter how small, that we can make for this cause.
And let's ask Our Lady of the Angels to give us the courage to defend the liberty of the Church and our freedom of conscience.
To view the Archdiocesan resources click here
RELIGIOUS LIBERTY SUPPORTERS TO TEXT 'FREEDOM' OR 'LIBERTAD'
Catholic communities nationwide join text message campaign
Promote education, action in support of First Amendment
Support Fortnight for Freedom June 21-July 4
WASHINGTON—The U.S. bishops launched a text messaging campaign June 21 to provide a new way for people to join the national campaign for religious freedom.
Catholics and supporters of religious freedom from all other faiths around the nation now can send the text message "Freedom" to 377377 to join the movement. Texters can then receive information regularly on how to help protect religious freedom worldwide.
"Across America, our right to live out our faith is being threatened — from Washington's forcing Catholic institutions to provide services that contradict their beliefs, to state governments' prohibiting religious charities from serving the most vulnerable," said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. "We encourage all supporters around the country to text the simple, meaningful word 'Freedom' (for English) or 'Libertad' (for Spanish) to 377377 to join the movement."
The U.S. bishops have issued a call to action to defend religious liberty and urged laity to work to protect the First Freedom of the Bill of Rights. In one major initiative, the Fortnight for Freedom, from June 21 to Independence Day, July 4, dioceses and parishes will commemorate this special two-week period of prayer, study and public action to emphasize both the Christian and American heritage of liberty.
Director Carter Snead on Hobby Lobby Ruling
June 30, 2014
Below is a statement from O. Carter Snead, Director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture and Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School, regarding today's Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
"Today's Supreme Court opinion in Hobby Lobby is a strong and welcome affirmation that the faithful do not lose the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act simply because they choose to exercise their religion through a closely held for-profit business.
"The decision is a clear rebuke to the federal government's efforts to compel family business owners like the Greens to provide coverage for drugs and devices that (according to FDA's own labeling) might function to cause the death of a human being at the embryonic stage of development. The Court also squarely rejected as woefully inadequate the government's suggestion that the Greens could avoid violating their religious commitments by simply dropping all of their employees from the generous Hobby Lobby health plan. Finally, the Court confirmed that the government may not second-guess or substitute its own opinions for the sincere judgment of religious believers about what their faith requires.
"At the same time, the Court made it clear that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not an automatic trump card for the faithful against all state action. The statute provides a careful balancing test that – consistent with our nation's best traditions – requires accommodation of sincerely held religious beliefs except in those cases where the challenged law is the least restrictive means of accomplishing a compelling state interest. One could easily imagine a future challenge to a government program (e.g., vaccinations) or an insincere plaintiff that would not prevail under RFRA.
"By contrast, the HHS contraceptive mandate marks a clear and unlawful overreach by the government under RFRA. Even assuming (as the Court did) that the government's asserted interest here is compelling, there are myriad less restrictive means of pursuing this goal without conscripting the Greens into paying for or otherwise facilitating access to drugs and devices that might cause the death of a living human embryo. Most obviously, the government could pay for these drugs and devices directly.
"Hopefully, in light of today's ruling, the federal government will reverse its misguided strategy of coercing religious believers and their institutions – including the University of Notre Dame - into facilitating conduct that conflicts with their deeply and sincerely held religious convictions."