The Bishops and the “Fortnight for Freedom”

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. There is still time to register for the National Right to Life convention June 28-30 and to reserve a hotel room at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in  Arlington, Virginia. Just go to www.nrlconvention.org.

Bishop William Lori testified before the House Committee of Oversight and Government Reform on the question, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State: Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” Listening is Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As we’ve discussed often in NRL News Today, tomorrow begins a “Fortnight for Freedom,” described by The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a “special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action [that] will emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.” Symbolically, this two weeks of public education and advocacy will culminate with a special Mass on the 4th of July.

We’ve also run dozens and dozens of stories about what has stirred not only the Catholic Church but countless millions of others, including those who have no particular faith base but who fear the direction of the Obama Administration and where it might strike next: the mandate that religious institutions and individuals of conscience pay for health insurance plans that cover medical procedures and drugs contrary to their religious beliefs and conscience.

There is a wonderful overview of “what’s at stake and why now?” that appears at The Public Discourse. A few of the issues raised are specific to the Catholic church, but the principle that is at stake—resisting an aggressive government which believes it can decide what constitutes the proper boundaries of a “religious” body—is of importance to everyone, including non-believers.

The headline for the analysis written by Matthew J. Franck and William E. Simon Jr. is  “Religious Freedom Under Siege: The Bishops Respond”.  Let me emphasize just three points of many they make in this outstanding essay.

#1. “What are the bishops up to with this ‘great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty’?” Franck and Simon ask.

“In keeping with their responsibilities as shepherds of the faith, they are calling their people–and anyone else who pays heed–to a heightened awareness of the centrality of religious freedom for any civilized society that claims to recognize the equal dignity of human beings.”

#2. “But why now?”

“Why should the bishops pick this season for a campaign of public education and advocacy on the subject of religious liberty? For religious-freedom watchers, that’s an easy question to answer. Under President Obama, religious freedom has been directly attacked when it has not been simply neglected or disregarded.”

#3. What needs to be restored and preserved? “[A] proper understanding of religious freedom.” Franck and Simon argue

“Such a restorative effort is the purpose of the Fortnight for Freedom. As Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, said at the bishops’ annual conference in Atlanta on June 13, the Fortnight ‘is not about parties, candidates, or elections . . . it is about the issue of religious freedom.’ Religious freedom knows no party. The bishops are responding to an aggressive secularism that happens to be led by a Democratic administration. ‘Responding’ is the key word here, for the bishops are not starting a fight, but neither are they backing away from one.”

What’s gradually happening—in no small part because of the resolute determination of the Bishops—is that the larger public is beginning to understand that President Obama does what President Obama wants to do. Triflings such as religious freedom, separation of church and state (properly understood), and the Constitution are mere speed bumps for the man who once revealingly illuminated his expansive view of himself and his mission: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

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