(CNS) -- In launching this year's Fortnight for Freedom, the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops is calling for renewed dedication to protecting religious freedom.
for Mission" is the theme of the 2017 Fortnight for Freedom, taking place
21 to July 4. The 14-day observance of action, education and prayer focused on
religious freedom began in 2012, stemming from a 12-page statement released that
June by the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty titled
"Our First, Most Cherished Liberty."
U.S. bishops recently voted to make the ad hoc committee permanent. It has
been chaired since its creation by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori.
archbishop opens the fortnight by celebrating an evening Mass June 21 at the
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in
Baltimore. He will celebrate the closing Mass July 4 in Orlando, Florida, on
the final day of the U.S. bishops' Convocation of Catholic Leaders.
Byrnes, assistant general counsel for the USCCB, works with the bishops on protecting
religious liberties from government infringement, which is the focus of the
said the media tends to hide the fact that religious freedom is an actual issue,
leaving people reluctant to talk about threats to that freedom.
have been dealing with religious freedom issues for a really long time in our
country," Byrnes told Catholic News Service in an interview June 20. "And
especially for Catholics, dating back to the 19th-century Blaine amendments, up
to the present day, there have been threats from the federal government as well
as state and local governments that really restrict our freedom to be able to
serve people in our charitable ministries, as well as people trying to live out
their Catholic faith or whatever faith they have. Religious freedom isn't just for
us as Christians, but it's for everyone."
amendments are in the constitutions of 37 states. Named for Rep. James Blaine
of Maine, the amendments bar public money from going to churches. Blaine
tried unsuccessfully in 1875 to have the U.S. Constitution prohibit the use of
public funds for "sectarian" schools.
amendment to the Missouri Constitution figures into a case currently before the
U.S. Supreme Court, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. The case involves a
Missouri state grant that gives schools and nonprofits recycled tire pieces to
use as a safer playground surface. Although Trinity Lutheran received a high
score on its application for the grant, the school was denied because of its
affiliation with a church. The court's ruling is expected during the Fortnight
were denied solely because they were a church, so it's a pretty clear-cut case
of discrimination based on religious status," Byrnes told CNS. "We are hoping
that the court will rectify that situation and say that there is an equal
playing ground that includes people of faith."
pointed to other issues threatening religious freedom, including the Health and
Human Services contraceptive mandate of 2011 requiring most religious employers
to cover contraceptives for employees even if they are morally opposed to such
coverage. The Little Sisters of the Poor and many other Catholic entities have
fought the mandate in court for several years, but now under the Trump
administration, an HHS rule has been proposed to exempt religious employers from the requirement.
also noted a transgender mandate that took effect Jan. 1 that redefines
"sex" for anti-discrimination purposes to include sexual orientation
and gender identity. It requires hospitals and physicians -- including Catholic
ones -- to "provide the hormonal treatments and even the surgeries even if
it's contrary to their professional judgment" to patients who want to
become a different sex.
two weeks that make up the Fortnight for Freedom coincide with observances on
the liturgical calendar that recall the examples of saints who fought religious
persecution and the first martyrs of the Church of Rome.
opens on the vigil of the feast of Sts. Thomas
More and John Fisher, who were martyred for their
faith. Both men were associates of Henry VIII, who ordered their execution. June
24 is the feast day of St. John the Baptist, who was beheaded at the request of
Herod's stepdaughter. June 29 is the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, honoring
addition to the Fortnight for Freedom observance, the USCCB has a reflection
series, "Pray-Reflect-Act," providing daily mediations throughout the fortnight
for specific intentions for which the church can unite in prayer. In addition,
the USCCB also issued a document on "How to Speak About Religious Freedom." Both
can be found on the USCCB website at http://bit.ly/1nhSDSV.
something that we need to keep in our minds and really pray about, because
prayer is really the most powerful thing that we have to try to solve these
issues," Byrnes said. "We can educate ourselves, but really prayer is the most