June 15, 2012


The ‘Fortnight for Freedom’

As we have been reporting, the Catholic Church in the United States is so concerned about attacks on its religious freedom that it has scheduled a “Fortnight for Freedom” from June 21 to July 4. It will start on the vigil of the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, two English saints who were executed over the issue of religious freedom, and conclude on the Fourth of July.

All across the country, dioceses are planning special Masses and other liturgical services to call attention to the threats against the Church, and highlight the importance of religious liberty and conscience protection.

This comes on the heels of the lawsuits filed by 43 Catholic dioceses and organizations against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) because of its mandate that they, as employers, must provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraceptives to their employees.

But isn’t all this a case of over-reaction? The secular media, when they bother to report on it at all, want us to think so.

For example, The New York Times called the lawsuits “a dramatic stunt, full of indignation but built on air.”

It scolded Catholic institutions, saying that the “First Amendment is not a license for religious entities to impose their dogma on society through the law.”

But the Church is doing nothing of the sort. Women are still free to buy relatively inexpensive contraceptives and legal abortion-inducing drugs. The Church simply believes that it has a right to refuse to pay for them.

The University of Notre Dame’s president, Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, made the point this way, “If the government wants to provide such services, means are available that do not compel religious organizations to serve as its agents.”

He added, “If the government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in such a manner, there is no apparent limit to the government’s power.

“If we concede that the government can decide which religious organizations are sufficiently religious to be awarded the freedom to follow the principles that define their mission, then we have begun to walk down a path that ultimately leads to the undermining of those institutions.”

Notre Dame’s president emeritus, 95-year-old Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh, said that he agreed with the necessity of the lawsuit because President Barack Obama “overreached.”

We believe that word “overreached” is precisely what happened. The president was determined to force religious institutions and private business owners opposed to the mandate to do his political will, and he didn’t seem to understand why anyone would be opposed.

The Wall Street Journal understood the implications of the lawsuit. It editorialized that the outcome of the struggle will determine “whether the entitlement state can pound everything, including religious belief, to its political will.”

The Journal also pointed out that many of the nation’s most prominent Catholic institutions have been allies with the federal government in the fight for social justice.

It also said that, no matter how hard the administration tries to make this debate about the Church denying contraception, it is about religious freedom.

The Obama administration could easily have avoided all this simply by exempting religious organizations from the mandate.

Of course, the administration says that it did do that, but, as New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said, “The exemption given to the Church is so strangling and so narrow, and it’s also presumptuous, that a bureau of the federal government is attempting to define for the Church the extent of its ministry and ministers.”

The “Fortnight for Freedom” is not just about the HHS mandate. It will also cover several other examples of how religious liberty is under attack.

For example, Catholic Charities in some places has been forced out of placing children for adoption because they have refused to place them with same-sex couples.

Of course, if the U.S. Supreme Court were to strike down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the lawsuits could be withdrawn. It is that act which allowed HHS to mandate abortifacients, sterilizations and contraceptives as “preventive care,” as if pregnancy were a disease.

That decision is expected on June 25, during the “Fortnight for Freedom.”

—John F. Fink

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