Embracing 2017's Fortnight for Freedom
“Freedom for Mission” is the theme of this year’s Fortnight for Freedom, an annual campaign launched in 2012 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to highlight the diminishing ability of people of faith and religious institutions to abide by their religious convictions while they serve the needy in the public square: “We are called to follow Christ as missionary disciples by seeking the truth, serving others, and living our faith in all that we do.”
And it may be that the Catholic Church feels the pinch the most, being so extensively involved in serving the needs of all Americans. The Church is the largest private provider of health care in the United States. About one in six inpatients are in a Catholic hospital. Over two million children attend her parochial schools and many thousands more her 197 colleges and universities. Catholic Charities is the fifth largest charity in the United States and serves millions of people a year, regardless of their religion or race. The U.S. Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services is a leading refugee resettlement agency. In fact, wherever you find the hungry, sick, homeless, or young people needing an education, there you find the Church, serving them.
But the Church cannot serve in ways that contradict basic Christian tenets about the dignity of life, marriage, and sexuality. In fact, it is the radical Christian ideal that all men and women are of equal dignity and worth that motivates the tireless Catholics that care for, educate, and succor so many millions of Americans each year.
So with all the good that they do, it may be surprising to learn of the threats the Church and people of faith face. For example, the federal government changed its grant specifications to require Catholic humanitarian services like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, which administers contract services for victims of human trafficking, to provide or refer for abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching. And though some steps have been taken to eliminate the mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services, the work is not complete. That mandate forces religious institutions like the Little Sisters of the Poor to facilitate or fund abortion inducing drugs and other products contrary to their own moral teaching and conscience.
Then there is the campaign being waged by the American Civil Liberties Union against Catholic hospitals for their adherence to Catholic ethical directives. For the purpose of safeguarding the dignity of all human life, these directives prohibit Catholic hospitals from performing abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and “gender transitions.” There are many examples, like suing one Catholic health system for declining to perform abortions, and another for refusing to remove a woman’s healthy uterus as part of a “transition,” but the ACLU is even actively chasing claims against Catholic institutions in order to find what has been elusive so far: a woman actually harmed by a hospital’s adherence to Catholic teaching.
When the Catholic Church and people of faith are harassed, the persons they help are deprived of all the good that they would have otherwise received — in social services, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and education. A recent Marist poll showed that nearly two thirds of Americans believe that freedom of religion should not be restricted by the government. 89% of Americans think religious liberty is a priority, and 56% think that medical professionals with moral objections should not have to participate in abortions. In short, Americans know that good people doing good work should flourish in a country built on respect for conscience and freedom of religion.