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Bishops issue 'call to action' on religious freedom

Release document, call for a 'fortnight of freedom' June 21-July 4

English Spanish

WASHINGTON—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. They outlined their position in “Our First, Most Cherished Freedom.” The document was developed by the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), approved for publication by the USCCB Administrative Committee March 13, and published in English and Spanish April 12.

The document also can be found here in English and here in Spanish.

“We have been staunch defenders of religious liberty in the past. We have a solemn duty to discharge that duty today,” the bishops said in the document, “… for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad.”
The document lists concerns that prompt the bishops to act now. Among concerns are:

The Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate forcing 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. Recently a federal court judge in Massachusetts turned religious liberty on its head when he declared that such a disqualification is required by the First Amendment—that the government violates religious liberty by allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a manner consistent with their beliefs on contraception and abortion.

The statement lists other examples such as 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. (See more background information here.)

Other topics include the history and deep resonance of Catholic and American visions of religious freedom, the recent tactic of reducing freedom of religion to freedom of worship, the distinction between conscientious objection to a just law, and civil disobedience of an unjust law, the primacy of religious freedom among civil liberties, the need for active vigilance in protecting that freedom, and concern for religious liberty among interfaith and ecumenical groups and across partisan lines.

The bishops decry limiting religious freedom to the sanctuary.

“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?”

“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.

The bishops highlighted religious freedom abroad.

“Our obligation at home is to defend religious liberty robustly, but we cannot overlook the much graver plight that religious believers, most of them Christian, face around the world,” they said. “The age of martyrdom has not passed. Assassinations, bombings of churches, torching of orphanages—these are only the most violent attacks Christians have suffered because of their faith in Jesus Christ. More systematic denials of basic human rights are found in the laws of several countries, and also in acts of persecution by adherents of other faiths.”

The document ends with a call to action.

“What we ask is nothing more than that our God-given right to religious liberty be respected. We ask nothing less than that the Constitution and laws of the United States, which recognize that right, be respected.” They specifically addressed several groups: the laity, those in public office, heads of Catholic charitable agencies, priests, experts in communication, and urged each to employ the gifts and talents of its members for religious liberty.

The bishops called for “A Fortnight for Freedom,” the two-week period from June 21 to July 4—beginning with the feasts of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher and ending with Independence Day—to focus “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” for religious liberty. They also asked that, later in the year, the feast of Christ the King be “a day specifically employed by bishops and priests to preach about religious liberty, both here and abroad.”

Members of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty include Archbishop-designate William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman; and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, of Philadelphia; Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta; Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul–Minneapolis; Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi, of Mobile, Alabama: Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle; Bishop John O. Barres of Allentown, Pennsylvania; Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas; Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix; Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois. Consultants include Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton. California; Bishop Joseph P. McFadden of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne–South Bend, Indiana.

Related Articles:
10/19/12 - Archdiocese joins HHS lawsuit
08/01/12 - Be an informed voter
08/01/12 - Voting: A matter of conscience
07/06/12 - 'We love America': St. Stephen Parish celebrates Fortnight for Freedom
06/14/12 - Florida bishops' statement on Fortnight for Freedom, June 21-July 4
06/11/12 - USCCB: Dioceses Gear Up For Fortnight For Freedom, June 21- July 4
05/21/12 - Archbishop Wenski comments on 12 lawsuits against HHS mandate
04/26/12 - Government can't impose practices on Catholic Church
04/12/12 - Backgrounder: Concerns raised in 'Our First Most Cherished Freedom'
03/18/12 - Bishops call for prayer campaign for religious liberty
03/15/12 - Make your voice heard at rallies March 23 in Dade and Broward
03/15/12 - Archbishop Wenski tells religious leaders HHS mandate is religious freedom issue
03/05/12 - Archbishop Wenski speaks to legal professionals at Red Mass in Key West
03/04/12 - Cardinal Dolan: Bishops will not 'cave-in'
03/02/12 - Bishop Lori comments on Senate vote to set aside Conscience Act
03/01/12 - Urge Congress to support Respect for Rights of Conscience Act now
02/22/12 - Update on recent developments regarding the HHS rule and mandate
02/16/12 - Birth control mandate: A bulletin insert from the U.S. bishops
02/16/12 - Bishop tells parable of kosher deli and pork mandate
02/16/12 - Faith, charity and the free exercise of religion
02/14/12 - U.S. bishops: Six more things everyone should know about the HHS mandate
02/10/12 - Archbishop Wenki's response to President Obama's "compromise" on HHS mandate
02/09/12 - EWTN sues U.S. government over contraceptive mandate
02/08/12 - Archbishop Wenski: Contraceptive mandate violates freedom of conscience
02/07/12 - Ave Maria University to fight HHS mandate
02/06/12 - U.S. bishops: Six things everyone should know about the HHS mandate
01/26/12 - Archbishop Wenski: Letter to parishes on contraceptive mandate
11/29/11 - Archbishop Wenski: Protect the rights of conscience, Mr. President

Comments from readers

Lucy Smith - 02/09/2012 10:45 PM
Archbishop Wenski, God bless you. As Catholics, we not only need strong Catholic leadership, but we also need our Church Fathers to help us to speak out against any threat to our religion, anything that may keep us and all Christians from straying from what we believe is right and good. Thank you. It is the Anti-Christ trying to turn us from our God and our eternal life at the right hand of our God.
Yolanda Lopez - 02/07/2012 03:01 PM
Is anyone really surprised we find ourselves in this predicament? We practically dragged the camel into the tent.

53% of Catholics voted for Obama despite his well known pro-choice voting record. Only three days after his inauguration he signed an executive order reversing the ban that prohibited funding (over $400,000,000) to family planning groups that provide abortions abroad. Soon after he was invited to give the commencement address at Notre Dame University.

By August, the President's gift for doublespeak was well known. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supported the health care bill citing promises it would include conscience protection clauses and specifically prohibited abortion funding. Many expressed concern the promises were lies.

Sadly, many Catholics will continue to support those who simply see them as a means to an end.

CHARLES SCALION - 02/06/2012 02:26 PM
Mary Garcia - 02/06/2012 11:38 AM
Thank you Your Excellancy for a job well done. Thank you for being the Sheperd we need for times such as these.
Maria T. Hadad - 02/05/2012 11:24 PM
Thanks, Exccelency to defended our right, is unbelievable that The President, want broke our Constitucion. Please I d like read this letter on my shurch St. Thimothy. Thanks.
Ana B. Valdivieso - 02/05/2012 11:05 AM
Good Job Archbishop Wenski. Good Bless you.
Corinne Donovan - 02/04/2012 11:11 PM
We all must rember how Hitler tried to Control Peoples religions.If he did not like one he just killed the People.I now first hand, because I was born in Austria.All the people in this country should be outraged, even if they are not Catholilis. There belief could be next.
Bill Zuppa - 02/04/2012 08:30 PM
Archbishop Wenski please accept my heartfelt appreciation for your comments and stand on this unprecedented attack on our freedom of religion. I am very proud of my more than 20 years of military service (Korea and Vietnam) safeguarding these rights.
God Bless and guide you through this blatant disregard of our rights as Americans.
Bill Zuppa
Mrs.Magaly LLaguno - 02/03/2012 03:18 PM
Your Excellency:

Thank you for your clear,concise,corageous and firm defense of our faith and our rights as Catholics. We thank God for having you as our Archbishop.
May God continue to bless you always in everything that you undertake for the faithful in our diocese and for the greater glory of God.
Respectfully in Jesus and Mary of Guadalupe,
Mrs.Magaly Llaguno
Vida Humana Internacional
Human Life International's Hispanic Division in Miami
Katherine - 02/02/2012 03:06 PM
Thank you for making our voices heard. I can't *believe* this got beyond someone's desk, this is truly an invasion of self.
Jade - 01/31/2012 02:40 PM
Thank you, Archbishop Wenski for taking a stand on this issue. You are doing the right thing and I hope more bishops will also make their voices heard.
Bonnie Cangelosi - 01/31/2012 11:33 AM
We need to take a stand now as this will only be the beginning of the loss of our rights as Catholics to practice our faith. The past has shown us what happens if we remain silent on such sentinel matters of Catholic belief. We will lose our rights one by one! Public display of our faith, prayer, and the right to life have already been threatened or removed. What will it take before we all wake up? Thank you Archbishop Wenski for joining with our Bishops all over this country by taking strong and swift action against this law that will take away our God given rights.
Randal Agostini - 01/31/2012 08:22 AM
An important communication from the Church. This is a line in the sand that must not be crossed for our own sake. As a Catholic, even if you believe in the practice of contraception or abortion you shoud be firm in opposing this ruling. As an individual you are free to develop your own conscience, but you are not supposed to impose those beliefs onto others. If we allow the Government to impose this ruling upon Catholics, then we allow the same government to impose any ruling that they please. This is a calculated move by this aministration who believes that we Catholics have no true faith, that we can be reconciled to anything. It is time for all Catholics to say - I believe.
Robert Allard - 01/31/2012 07:29 AM
Thank you, Your Excellency, for your wisdom and determination to uphold the teachings of our faith.
Ruth Applegate - 01/30/2012 06:34 PM
I applaud Archbiship Wenski for being a shepard after the Lord's heart. I pray that his words will be heeded for our freedoms are at stake here. And may we all pray for and stand strong behind our Bishops.
Victoria Meyer - 01/30/2012 04:53 PM
We should certainly take a stand! Thank you for this letter, however it was not read at our parish- what a shame.
Todd - 01/27/2012 12:26 AM
AMEN! We Catholics CANNOT back down on this issue!
Thank you Archbishop Wenski for taking a stand.

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