Today marks the beginning of the “Fortnight for Freedom,” the 14 days before Independence Day designated by the US bishops as a “special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action [that] will emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.”
As might be expected, a good deal of virtual ink has already been spilled as commentators across the web grapple with the issues at the heart of the Fortnight for Freedom observance, including religious liberty, conscience protection, and the role of the Church in the public square. Here are some the best pieces on these subjects, as the bishops’ campaign kicks off today.
A good place to start is the USCCB’s Fortnight for Freedom page, which is chock-full of resources for prayer, study, and catechesis, including reflections for each day of the fortnight. There’s also a directory of diocesan events and activities.
If you haven’t already, read the statement released in April by the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.”
Writing at GetReligion, Mollie Hemingway discusses a few things to keep in mind as you watch/read/listen to mainstream media coverage of Fortnight for Freedom events—specifically, where oft-repeated talking points and narratives may be coming from:
A week ago I wrote a post headlined “Savvy PR firms drive coverage of HHS mandate.” I wrote it because it struck me that a Los Angeles Times story hewed pretty closely to the public relations campaign I’d been seeing — since first alerted to it by CNN — of a PR campaign orchestrated by Faith in Public Life, heavily funded by the Open Society Institute of prominent atheist billionaire George Soros.
Since then, a reader sent along, via email, a copy of the information Faith in Public Life sent to reporters on June 7, complete with narrative framework (bishops are being unreasonable and partisan) questions to ask bishops (who is funding you?) and sources for interviews. It turns out that the information sent to reporters matched up pretty well with the Los Angeles Times story written by Mitchell Landsberg. He even used for supporting quotes the first source that Faith in Public Life identified as a good person to speak with on the issue. I’ve said it before: Give Faith in Public Life’s PR campaign guy John Gehring a raise! I half want to call their funders myself and suggest they throw some additional funds in that direction. He’s doing excellent work at getting reporters to adopt the messaging campaign he’s suggesting.
Many authors (including George Weigel) are putting the HHS mandate and the larger struggle for religious freedom in historical context, focusing on the United States’ long tradition of revering and cherishing the free practice of religion and the protection of conscience. Writing for CWR earlier this week, Benjamin Wiker presents an even broader historical picture of the current controversy, harkening back to Ancient Rome:
When we put the HHS mandate into the larger historical framework, we realize something quite ominous about what’s really at stake. The HHS mandate is just one more momentous battle in the long struggle between Christians and pagans. For we in the West have been, for some time, undergoing what could quite accurately be called “repaganization.”
Repaganization? Yes. Over the last two centuries, our culture has become increasingly secularized. The Christian-based understanding of sexual purity that for so long had formed Western society has been largely abandoned by a kind of secular hedonism, with quite predictable effects. The release of sexual desire from Christian-based moral restrictions in the 19th and 20th century led immediately to the desire for contraception, abortion, and, as we’re seeing more and more, infanticide. As a result, Christians now find themselves in much the same situation as they were in ancient, pagan Rome: surrounded by an antagonistic, sexually-saturated pagan culture, demanding contraceptives, abortifacients, direct abortion, and infanticide to remove the unwanted “side-effects” of sexual libertinism. Our secularism looks suspiciously like ancient paganism.
At Public Discourse, Matthew J. Franck and William E. Simon, Jr. offer a detailed defense of the bishops’ rationale for the Fortnight for Freedom campaign, and include a brief discussion of the legacy of the two saints whose feast day falls at the very beginning of the two-week observance:
John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More, who had risen in law and politics to be Chancellor of England, were each imprisoned in the Tower of London and ultimately executed (Fisher on June 22 and More on July 6, 1535) because of their refusal to bend their consciences to the political will of King Henry when he had himself declared supreme head of the church in England. On the 400th anniversary of their deaths, Fisher and More were canonized. In the Mass celebrating the declaration of their sainthood, Pope Pius XI said of Fisher that “he was not afraid to proclaim the truth openly,” and that he went to his death uttering “a fervent prayer of supplication for himself, for his people, and for his king. Thus did he give another clear proof that the Catholic religion does not weaken, but increases the love of one’s country.” As for the much more famous More, Pius said of him that “he knew how to despise resolutely the flattery of human respect, how to resist, in accordance with his duty, the supreme head of the state when there was a question of things commanded by God and the Church, and how to renounce with dignity the high office with which he was invested.” The pope went on—in those dangerous days in the Europe of 1935—to exhort his listeners “to imitate with all diligence the great virtues of these holy martyrs, and to implore for yourselves and for the Church militant their powerful protection.”
Finally, First Things has two excellent pieces from US bishops today; one by Los Angeles’ Archbishop Jose Gomez and one by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.
Archbishop Gomez puts the question of religious freedom issue in a global context:
We’re blessed in our country with a religious liberty that, sadly, most people in the world today do not enjoy. According to the Pew Center, three out of four people worldwide live in a country where the government doesn’t protect their right to worship and serve the God they believe in.
This global context puts the Catholic Church’s current conflict with the U.S. government in some perspective. But just because believers today aren’t executed for their beliefs and are free to go to church on Sundays, that doesn’t mean freedom of religion isn’t in jeopardy in America.
For our country’s founders—and for every American generation until now—freedom of religion has meant much more than the freedom to worship. Freedom of religion has meant the freedom to establish institutions to help us live out our faith and carry out our religious duties. Freedom of religion has meant the freedom to express our faith and values in political debates—and the freedom to try to persuade others to share our convictions.
Archbishop Chaput, in a speech delivered yesterday at the Catholic Media Conference in Indianapolis, drives home a point made repeatedly by the bishops in recent months, and also by the Catholic Health Association in its recent critique of the HHS mandate:
Freedom of religion is more than freedom of worship. The right to worship is a necessary but not sufficient part of religious liberty. Christian faith requires community. It begins in worship, but it also demands preaching, teaching, and service. It’s always personal but never private. And it involves more than prayer at home and Mass on Sunday–though these things are vitally important. Real faith always bears fruit in public witness and public action. Otherwise it’s just empty words.
The founders saw the value of publicly engaged religious faith because they experienced its influence themselves. They created a nation designed in advance to depend on the moral convictions of religious believers, and to welcome their active role in public life.
Archbishop Chaput places responsibility for the preservation of religious freedom squarely on the shoulders of American Catholics (echoing sentiments expressed by Catholic University of America’s President John Garvey at last week at the bishops’ general assembly in Atlanta):
Religious liberty is an empty shell if the spiritual core of a people is weak. Or to put it more bluntly, if people don’t believe in God, religious liberty isn’t a value. That’s the heart of the matter. It’s the reason Pope Benedict calls us to a Year of Faith this October. The worst enemies of religious freedom aren’t “out there” among the legion of critics who hate Christ or the Gospel or the Church, or all three. The worst enemies are in here, with us–all of us, clergy, religious, and lay–when we live our faith with tepidness, routine, and hypocrisy.
Religious liberty isn’t a privilege granted by the state. It’s our birthright as children of God. And even the worst bigotry can’t kill it in the face of a believing people. But if we value it and want to keep it, then we need to become people worthy of it. Which means we need to change the way we live–radically change, both as individual Catholics and as the Church.