Today begins the second Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week period of prayer and action called by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Its purpose is to raise awareness about many current challenges to religious liberty, one of the most pressing being the August 1, 2013 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate.
The beginning of the Fortnight coincides with the feasts of St. Thomas More and St. John the Baptist, two men who lost their heads, literally, for the faith. The bishops are not joking around.
All people of faith in this country should tune in, because the government's demand that all institutions with little exception provide contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization puts countless employers in an impossible position: comply with the law or violate their conscience. Failure to comply can come with staggering fines from the IRS.
Rather than abide by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, was signed by Bill Clinton and offers generous exemption to conscientious objectors, the administration gave religious employers at non-profits a one-year period to get over their moral qualms against things like abortion pills. This so-called "safe-harbor" for objecting religious institutions was never very safe, but even that tenuous protection ends this August 1. Might you be an employer in the private sector? Sorry, you're plum out of luck.
There's been a lot of talk about an olive branch. The so-called accommodation was touted as a fix-all solution to those whining about faith fines. But the substance of the proposal was a mere accounting gimmick. To date there has been no acceptable solution, the most obvious evidence of which are the more than 60 lawsuits, encompassing 200 plaintiffs and counting, filed against the administration for violating First Amendment rights. People of faith continue to wait for a sign of good faith from the administration, and turn to periods like the Fortnight for spiritual fortitude and renewed action.
"In today's world, religious freedom is more often affirmed than put into practice," Pope Francis said. "It is often threatened, and not infrequently violated. The serious outrages against this fundamental right are a source of serious concern, and need to be confronted at the global level."
This is neither a partisan nor an exclusively Catholic issue because it is a basic human freedom protected by the First Amendment and written in human nature. Defending religious freedom stems from a love of country which values both the vision of our Founders, and human dignity.
The recent rash of scandals reveal just how bold this administration has been in its dismissal of constitutional rights. How arrogant this administration has been in forcing that choice between conscience and country that our forefathers sought, at the price of their lives, to avoid. And how aggressive has been this administration's push to relegate religion and those who take it seriously to the margins of society.
"Defending religious liberty and making it available for everyone," Pope Francis said, "is everyone's responsibility."
Join us during this Fortnight for Freedom, especially at the Prayer Vigil for Religious Freedom where we will pray for a last-minute reprieve from this administration's outrageous demands.