My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
For the second year in a row, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will conduct a "Fortnight for Freedom" a two-week period of prayer and action beginning on June 21, the vigil of the feasts of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, and culminating on July 4, Independence Day. The purpose of this effort is to issue a nationwide call to defend religious liberty and to urge the laity to work to protect the first freedom of the Bill of Rights.
There are a number of areas where our religious freedom is being threatened right here in the United States. Here are some examples:
HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.
The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services forces religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching. Further, the federal government tries to define which religious institutions are "religious enough" to merit protection of their religious liberty.
Catholic foster care and adoption services.
Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the State of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services — by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both — because those Catholic Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.
State immigration laws.
Several states have recently passed laws that forbid what they deem as "harboring" of undocumented immigrants — and what the church deems Christian charity and pastoral care to these immigrants.
Discrimination against small church congregations.
New York City adopted a policy that barred the Bronx Household of Faith and other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services, even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for many other uses. Litigation in this case continues.
Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services.
After years of excellent performance by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require MRS to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching.
Christian students on campus.
In its over-100-year history, the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.
Forcing religious groups to host same-sex "marriage" or civil union ceremonies.
A New Jersey judge recently found that a Methodist ministry violated state law when the ministry declined to allow two women to hold a "civil union" ceremony on its private property. Further, a civil rights complaint has been filed against the Catholic Church in Hawaii by a person requesting to use a chapel to hold a same-sex "marriage" ceremony.
This is not just a Catholic issue. Many others have joined the Catholic bishops in speaking out against the mandate. Many recognize this as an assault on the broader principle of religious liberty, whether or not they agree with the Church on the underlying moral question. For example, at a February 2012 congressional hearing on this issue, testimony supporting the USCCB's position was heard from the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a distinguished Orthodox rabbi, and officials and professors from several Protestant institutions of higher learning. The nation's largest non-Catholic denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, has strongly criticized the contraceptive mandate, as have leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals, Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Evangelicals for Social Action, and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. An online declaration supporting the Church's position has been signed by about 28,000 Catholic and non-Catholic women, including many health professionals, academics and businesswomen.
Here at the diocesan level, I will be celebrating Mass for the Fortnight for Freedom at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 22, the third anniversary of my installation as Bishop of Springfield in Illinois. All are welcome and priests are invited to concelebrate.
There will also be a Fortnight for Freedom Prayer Rally at the Lincoln Capitol Statue at South Second Street and East Capitol Avenue in Downtown Springfield on Wednesday, July 3, at noon. These two diocesan events will provide bookends for other events that parishes are encouraged to do locally. More information and suggestions for parish celebrations of the Fortnight for Freedom are available at www.Fortnight4Freedom.org.
I pray that our efforts to protect religious liberty will be successful.
May God give us this grace. Amen.