(CNSNews.com) - The Catholic bishops of the United States have called for the nation’s Catholics to observe the two week period starting today and running through the Fourth of July as a “Fortnight of Freedom” in which they hope Americans will pray for the preservation of freedom in this country and speak out clearly against the unprecedented attacks on religious liberty that have issued from the federal government.
The bishops have issued a new “Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty” that they hope Catholics will use frequently in the coming days. The prayer asks God to keep America “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” for “the sake of our children, our grandchildren, and all who come after us.”
It describes the current time as a “decisive hour in the history of our nation.”
The “Fortnight of Freedom” pointedly begins on the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. Fisher and More are both Catholic martyrs beheaded by King Henry VIII in 1535 for refusing to take an oath recognizing Henry as the supreme authority over the church in England. Fisher, a cardinal, was bishop of Rochester. More, a lawyer, had served Henry as Lord Chancellor. Both gave their lives rather than bow to the king’s demand that they act against their consciences.
The most imminent threat to religious liberty—but not the only one—that the Catholic bishops have been protesting and seeking to draw public attention to is a regulation that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued under President Barack Obama’s health care law. The regulation will require virtually all health-care plans in the United States to cover, without any fees or co-pay, sterilizations, artificial contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
The Catholic Church teaches that sterilization, artificial contraceptives and abortion are morally wrong. Thus, the regulation would force Catholic workers, business owners and institutions to buy and/or provide for things that violate the teachings of their faith.
After the Obama administration finalized the regulation earlier this year, most Catholic bishops around the country published a letter, read from the pulpits in local churches, that said: “We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law.”
This month, the Catholic bishops are distributing an insert in church bulletins around the country pointing to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership of the Civil Rights Movement, and his defense of civil disobedience, noting that King, a Baptist minister, used the arguments of the Catholic Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to justify peaceful resistance to unjust laws. In the bulletin insert, the bishops made clear that civil disobedience may be necessary when freedom of conscience is attacked.
“Some unjust laws impose such injustices on individuals and organizations that disobeying the laws may be justified,” says the bulletin insert. “Every effort must be made to repeal them. When fundamental human goods, such as the right of conscience, are at stake, we may need to witness to the truth by resisting the law and incurring its penalties.”
In a longer statement on religious liberty published in April, the Catholic bishops plainly restated the Catholic teaching: “An unjust law cannot be obeyed.”
“It is a sobering thing to contemplate our government enacting an unjust law,” said the bishops. “An unjust law cannot be obeyed. In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them. No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it. But if it should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith.”
At their biannual meeting in Atlanta last week, the U.S. Catholic bishops unanimously endorsed a statement titled, “United For Religious Freedom.” This statement pointed out that it is not just Catholic institutions or employers whose religious freedom is attacked by the administration’s sterilization-contraception-abortifacient mandate, but also individual Americans, who in their consciences, object to these things.
Calling the mandate a “violation of personal civil rights,” the Catholic bishops of America unanimously said:
“The HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values. They, too, face a government mandate to aid in providing ‘services’ contrary to those values—whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees; or as insurers themselves—without even the semblance of an exemption. This, too, is unprecedented in federal law, which has long been generous in protecting the rights of individuals not to act against their religious beliefs or moral convictions. We have consistently supported these rights, particularly in the area of protecting the dignity of all human life, and we continue to do so.”
During the Fortnight of Freedom, Catholic dioceses, parishes and institutions around the country will be holding various events, including liturgies, prayer services, meetings, and public actions, so, as Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore put it, American Catholics can “show our neighbors and the world that we are proud of our great national heritage of religious liberty for all, and we are determined to keep that heritage strong.”
The Fortnight will culminate with Catholic churches nationwide simultaneously ringing their bells at 12:00 noon Eastern Time on July 4.
The full Prayer for the Protection of Liberty is as follows:
O God our Creator, from your provident hand we have received our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You have called us as your people and given us the right and the duty to worship you, the only true God, and your Son, Jesus Christ.
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit, you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world, bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel to every corner of society.
We ask you to bless us in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty. Give us the strength of mind and heart to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened; give us courage in making our voices heard on behalf of the rights of your Church and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.
Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father, a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters gathered in your Church in this decisive hour in the history of our nation, so that, with every trial withstood and every danger overcome—for the sake of our children, our grandchildren, and all who come after us—this great land will always be “one nation, under God,indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.