Archbishop Paul S. Coakley June 26, 2016
For the fifth consecutive summer, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a Fortnight for Freedom to celebrate religious liberty as our first and fundamental freedom.
We are in the midst of this annual observance now. It began June 21 on the eve of the feast of the two great English martyrs for religious liberty, Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher. It will conclude on July 4, the birthday of our nation and its commitment to liberty and justice for all.
In the five years that the Fortnight for Freedom has been observed, we have witnessed new challenges to religious liberty in the United States and continuing assaults on this freedom in many parts of the world. Globally, we have seen violent persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria and in parts of Africa. Christian men and women, boys and girls are being imprisoned, tortured and martyred for no crime other than their faith in Jesus Christ.
Here in the United States the threats are more subtle, more polite. It was the so-called “contraceptive mandate” imbedded in the Affordable Care Act that first brought into the open this assault on religious liberty. That battle is still being fought in the courts. What is at stake is the ability of religious institutions and persons of faith to practice their faith and act on it without government penalties in the form of crippling fines and other restrictions.
During these five years, the cultural tide and even the law of the land have rapidly shifted in favor of same sex couples, even to the point of equating same-sex unions with civil marriage. The legal consequences for religious liberty that this sea change will have are still being worked out.
Now, the latest front where this battle is being waged is over gender identity, a radical ideology that disregards the real biological complementarity between men and women and claims the right for each individual to determine one’s own gender based merely on how one identifies oneself.
The challenges that proponents of these new ideologies are leveling against religious liberty are not restricted to the courts.They are even more effective in stifling freedom of speech and religious practice through the court of public opinion.
Those who disagree with a person’s chosen lifestyle, if dissenting from this new radical secular orthodoxy, are called haters and fear-mongers. They apparently do not believe that you can disagree with someone’s lifestyle without hating them. In fact, Jesus teaches us to love all and even pray for those who persecute us! Sadly, we witnessed this response in the aftermath of the recent terrorist assault on the gay nightclub in Orlando, which resulted in so many tragic deaths. In the media, some were blaming Catholics for this tragedy because of the Church’s adherence to God’s plan for marriage and for not surrendering to the new radical orthodoxy of “marriage equality” and “gender identity.”
The First Amendment’s protection of free speech and religious liberty always has been meant to protect minorities and unpopular views. Today, it is becoming increasingly apparent that those who uphold the traditional understanding of marriage, and those who continue to recognize the real sexual differences between men and women are becoming that minority.
Who will stand with us tomorrow if we do not stand for and with those whose basic freedoms are being denied today?
Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher, pray for us!
Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty
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.