By Maria Wiering
The U.S. bishops are again encouraging Catholics to observe the Fortnight for Freedom from June 21 to July 4 as a period of prayer, education and activism for religious liberty. The event launched last year in the wake of what Catholic leaders viewed as mounting attacks on religious freedom throughout the country and the world.
Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, will preside at the national event’s opening 7 p.m. Mass June 21 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. Click here for a list of Fortnight events in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
The Catholic Review asked Archbishop Lori to explain the importance of this second Fortnight. The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How will this year’s event compare to last year’s?
A: This second Fortnight sends a signal that we need to continue the prayerful effort to appreciate and sustain our religious freedom. It’s not a one-time event. It’s something we need to do consistently as part of our life of faith.
Q: What impact did you see last year’s Fortnight make?
A: It was a wonderful beginning. Nobody saw it as a be-all and end-all, which is why we’re having a second Fortnight for Freedom and maybe more after that because this is something that you have to build patiently day by day, month by month and year by year.
Q: Why should Catholics still be concerned about these religious liberty concerns?
A: Religious freedom is very, very fundamental to our human dignity and to the ministries of our church. That requires eternal vigilance. Our eyes might glaze over a little bit, but once in a while we need to be wide awake. This is one of those times.
The (U.S. Department of) Health and Human Services’ mandate (that most businesses and organizations, including faith-based ones, provide insurance coverage for artificial contraception, female sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs) will become effective for nonprofits Aug. 1.
The U.S. Supreme Court is going to be ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 (California’s amendment banning gay marriage, known as “Prop 8”), plus a whole host of other challenges to religious liberty that would potentially hamper the church’s role, not only in teaching the faith, but living the faith and enriching the lives of others. Hampering the church’s ability to do that is a detriment to the whole society.
Defending religious freedom is an act of love for our own country. It respects the vision of our founders, and it respects human dignity, and it is essential for the common good and human flourishing. This is something we do as lovers of our country, as lovers of the American experiment in limited government.
Q: Are you concerned that Catholics and other people of faith have been losing steam on the issues over the past year, as the lawsuits have gone on?
A: One, in the lawsuits (against the HHS mandate), the for-profit businesses are batting .750. Two, many of the church lawsuits have been dismissed for lack of ripeness. They will become ripe Aug. 1. A lot of hard work is being done behind the scenes. This is an opportunity to lift that up. It’s important for us to patiently build a religious liberty movement, not to get into naysayers or those who would discourage us. It’s important for us to visualize and quantify what some of these threats would mean.
For example, the heavy fines the government would impose on church entities who are doing charitable work if they fail to go along with the (federal government’s) so-called “accommodation.” There’s work to do, and we need to be cheerful and determined.
Q: Do you still see the HHS mandate as the chief issue?
A: It’s one of many. It’s certainly a principle issue, but it’s not the only one. The redefinition of marriage also poses many challenges as well.
Q: With the HHS mandate, what are your concerns as we approach Aug. 1?
A: The concern is that we’re not getting any real relief from the administration on this. It’s not for want of trying, either. We’ve certainly worked hard to maintain a dialogue.
Q: As Catholic and other religious organizations renew their insurance policies after that date, what might we expect, if the mandate does not change?
A: It’s too early to tell.
Q: What implications might the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on DOMA and Prop 8 have for the church?
A: The redefinition of marriage will have a huge impact on the whole of society, because marriage, and the notion of marriage, is pervasive in law. It’s not simply the changing of a single rule, it’s the changing of the understanding of marriage wherever it occurs in law. This is more of a sea change (broad transformation) than people realize. It affects things like hiring, benefits, use of facilities, licensure, a whole host of issues.
Q: Some people argue that religious freedom isn’t being threatened, but that the country is accommodating a pluralistic society, such as in the case of removing a Christian prayer from a public meeting. How do you respond?
A: It’s a funny kind of pluralism that doesn’t make room for Christianity and Catholic values. For genuine pluralism, we would have complete freedom to exercise our mission according to our own rights.
Q: Why is prayer central to the Fortnight?
A: Nothing opens your mind and heart like prayer. When you’re communicating with the Lord, you’re communicating with the source of wisdom, and what we need now is some wisdom.
Q: What is your hope for this year’s fortnight?
A: My hope is that it will be a time of prayerful reflection for a lot of people, a time to bring into focus some of the religious liberty challenges that we’re facing, and a time when people understand more profoundly how faith enriches culture. I hope that everyone will show up at the Basilica on June 21 at 7 p.m.
Copyright (c) June 7,2013 CatholicReview.org