Many Catholics, upon hearing about the Fortnight for Freedom, may be forgiven for asking: “What’s a fortnight?”
A middle English contraction of fourteen and night, it is an archaic bit of alliteration for an important topic: two weeks in which Catholics can pray, read and reflect upon the importance of religious liberty.
The U.S. bishops have called for a Fortnight for Freedom to bring attention to their concerns about the diminishment of religious liberty in this country and particularly actions taken at the state and federal level that directly or indirectly lay punitive burdens on Catholic institutions for their beliefs.
It was to start June 21, the eve of the feast day of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, two saints who were martyred for refusing to bow to the coercion of the crown over the rejection of papal authority by King Henry VIII. Church-state conflicts then were handled with a certain lack of subtlety: Thomas More’s severed head was left on a pike for 30 days as a warning to others.
The sheer drama of this feast day is also a reminder that heads are not rolling in this land, no matter the fierceness of the debates. We have much to be thankful for.
Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and others are not so fortunate elsewhere: From Nigeria to Myanmar, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, from Tibet to Sudan, believers often pay a high price for their faith. Sometimes it takes only the form of discrimination, as with Egypt’s Coptic Christians. Sometimes it includes imprisonment, torture, even death. The victims may be Buddhists, sects of Islam, or relatively unknown creeds like Baha’i, but most often they are Christians.
The struggle for religious liberty is worldwide, and reaches far beyond the coercive regulations of the Department of Health and Human Services to force Catholic institutions to fund practices they find offensive, or the willingness of the government to number how many Catholics work at such institutions and how many Catholics they serve. These regulations have provoked a series of lawsuits, which Our Sunday Visitor is a part of.
In our country, much of the bishops’ concern hinges not just on the regulations themselves, but also on the precedents: First, the precedents ignored where the state has been flexible in addressing the concerns of believers, be they Amish, Quaker or Catholic. And second, the precedent established if the HHS regulations are unchanged. The recent legislation in Alabama that threatened to prohibit the Church from serving the undocumented shows how quickly this precedent at the federal level could be expanded to challenge whom the Church serves, whom the Church teaches, and whom the Church cares for.
By launching the fortnight, the bishops have provided Catholics a golden opportunity: We urge all Catholics to use the Fortnight for Freedom to pray for a just resolution to this constitutional conflict at home, and to affirm the rights and human dignity of their fellow Christians and all others suffering religious persecution. Visit the bishops’ religious liberty website (fortnight4freedom.org) for more information. And pray with one heart the Litany for Liberty, which ends:
O God, who gave one origin to all peoples
and willed to gather from them one family for yourself,
fill all hearts, we pray, with the fire of your love
and kindle in them a desire
for the just advancement of their neighbor,
that, through the good things which you richly bestow upon all,
each human person may be brought to perfection,
every division may be removed,
and equity and justice may be established in human society.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.