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 eventsspecifically,
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
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
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 onin those dangerous days in the Europe of 1935to 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
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.
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 foundersand for every American generation until nowfreedom
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 debatesand the freedom to
try to persuade others to share our convictions.
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:
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 Sundaythough 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 usall of us, clergy, religious, and
laywhen 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
liveradically change, both as individual Catholics and as the Church.