Upholding religious freedom at home and abroad

This summer marks the sixth Fortnight for Freedom. The campaign, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, aims to highlight the importance of upholding the fundamental right of religious freedom in the United States. The dates of the event extend from June 21 to July 4, ending on the Fourth of July holiday and encompassing the feast of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher (June 22).

Protecting religious liberty in order to avoid discrimination against people of faith became a top priority for the U.S. bishops during the Obama administration. It is yet unclear how important similar advocacy will be under President Donald Trump. But if one thing is certain, it’s that Americans support religious liberty protection.

According to a Marist Poll released earlier this year, 89 percent of Americans view protecting religious freedom as a “priority” — of that number, 57 percent believe it to be an “immediate priority” while 32 percent consider it “important.” Along party lines, the numbers of those believing it to be an “immediate priority” include 55 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of Independents. In addition, 65 percent of Americans stated they believed religious liberty should be protected even when it conflicts with U.S. laws.

“Majorities of Americans — regardless of party — have embraced religious freedom and have rightly rejected the false notion that it is something negative. They overwhelming support the protection of our first freedom, the free exercise of religion,” said Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson.

Support for religious liberty at home comes at a time when persecution is growing abroad. Attacks against Christians in the Middle East, exemplified this year by the killings of dozens of Coptic Christians during Palm Sunday liturgy in Egypt, are increasing. An annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, released in April, notes that “the state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations.” Countries of particular concern, according to the report, are Burma, Central African Republic, China, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Syria, among others. Those in the “Tier 2” category include Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq and Turkey, among others.

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For Catholics, as we fight for our religious freedom in the public square here at home, let us keep in mind those who are suffering around the world. In our prayers for religious liberty this Fortnight for Freedom, let us lift up the men, women and children who face persecution, violence and even death just because they cling to their faith. Their witness can and should inspire us when we may feel unsure how to respond to our own challenges. Lord, please protect all your sons and daughters who seek and stand up for the right to worship without fear.