High noon on June 28 brought hundreds of freedom-loving Catholics and non-Catholics to a citadel of secular power, the state capital building in Springfield, for a bold display of religious freedom. It was the midway point of Fortnight for Freedom, the yearly observance of religious freedom sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
“Our primary purpose today is to proclaim God’s greatness,” said Steven Roach, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. “And for the ability to express our religious beliefs in our churches, in our synagogues, in our mosques and yes, indeed, in our public square.”
Roach ridiculed what the duplicity of the state appealing for Illinoisans to become foster parents only a few years after summarily dismissing Catholic Charities from its highly successful foster parent and adoption program after refusing to place children in homes headed by civil unions, or as it evolved, same-sex marriage.
Bishop Thomas John Paprocki led the rally in prayer where he asked the Holy Father to “inspire us to be your witnesses, grant us the courage to stand boldly and joyfully in protection of our freedom. In your mercy guard our religious freedom so we may continue to live out our faith and transform the world in which we live.”
Special guest Hillary Byrnes answered that question from her perspective as assistant general counsel for the USCCB.
“The Little Sisters [of the Poor} unfortunately are still in a legal battle dealing with the HHS legal mandate ... for six long years. This nightmare, the HHS mandate threatens to shut down Catholic ministries when you imagine the millions of dollars in fines that they face,” Byrnes said.
Byrnes cited further examples of federal intrusion and threats against persons of faith that involve gender and transgender issues, bathrooms and forcing medical persons of faith to participate in performing elective abortions.
“One critical area that we need Congress to step up is to pass the Conscious Protection Act, said Byrnes. That legislation would provide the protection pro-life medical personnel need to avoid financial threats against them in the form of lawsuits as well as protection for them when faced with suspension of their professional licenses by states.
Turning to the judicial branch, Byrnes saw encouraging signs such as the Supreme Court’s decision on June 24 that overturned a Missouri decision that a faith-based daycare was not eligible for grants administered by the state. (See page 15). And she cited the Supreme Court’s intent to rule on a Colorado baker that refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
Byrnes said that many of the religious freedom situations she cited fall under the category that Pope Francis has labeled as “polite persecution.” Not to be confused with the real and physical torture and death inflicted on Christians particularly in the Middle East, Byrnes said that “America has to remain the beacon of hope for people around the world. If religious freedom is threatened here, it is not safe anywhere.