As people buy their Fourth of July decorations and make plans for the day celebrating our nation's independence, the U.S. bishops once again are asking Catholics to take time to pray and take action for religious freedom in our country.
The second Fortnight for Freedom began June 21 and runs through July 4, "to address many current challenges to religious liberty, including the Aug. 1 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate, Supreme Court rulings that could attempt to redefine marriage in June, and religious liberty concerns in areas such as immigration and humanitarian services," according to the bishops' website.
In a country where freedom of religion was considered so important to the Founders that it was part of the first amendment made to the U.S. Constitution, it is hard to believe that it is so threatened today.
In his latest column in the Catholic New World, Cardinal George writes that the dangers to religious freedom today are legal and cultural with the biggest threat coming from the Department of Health and Human Services mandate in the health care law, "that Catholic institutions have to pay for 'services' that are immoral."
"Religious freedom is compromised when the government, for the first time in this country, decides which of our institutions are sufficiently 'religious' by the government's standards to merit a conscientious exemption from paying for abortifacient drugs, elective sterilization and direct contraception," the cardinal writes. "Not only does covering the expense of these 'services' bring an institution or an individual into cooperation with evil and the danger of giving scandal, but the largely unspoken fear is that the government, having won the day on our paying for these procedures, will move on to demand that they take place in all hospitals that receive payments from public programs."
This could have repercussions beyond the world of health care.
"In other words, every public institution will become a government directed institution, and the distinctive voice of the Gospel will disappear from health care and, eventually, from other areas of public service as well," Cardinal George writes.
The threats to religious freedom in our country even caught the attention of Pope Benedict XVI, who urged the U.S. bishops during their ad limina visits in January 2012 to work to protect the "most cherished of American freedoms."
The bishops and the pope agree that the laity's engagement in the battle to protect this freedom is absolutely necessary, so take some time during these two weeks to learn more about the threats today and what you can do about it. There is lots of information on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' website.