In January, President Obama inadvertently invigorated the Catholic Church to action when he issued the government's controversial contraceptive mandate. But the groundwork of intense angst between Obama and the Church was set months before, as The Blaze has previously noted.
The mandate simply served as the final straw between Catholic and government leaders, following a series of tensions that built up on a variety of fronts. This past April, we told you that Catholic Bishops were preparing to take action, as they announced a multi-year, religious-freedom offensive. This year, a portion of the mass effort called the "Fortnight for Freedom" will be undertaken.
On Thursday, this intriguing part of the initiative, a collection of Catholic events across America, will commence. The 14-day event will extend through Independence Day on July 4. During this time, Catholics will assemble for special events in communities across the U.S. The end goal, a web site setup by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops proclaims, is to "emphasize" Catholics' "Christian and American heritage of liberty."
"Religious liberty is the first liberty granted to us by God and protected in the First Amendment to our Constitution," the Church claims. "It includes more than our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It also encompasses our ability to contribute freely to the common good of all Americans."
During the "Fortnight for Freedom," participants will be encouraged to pray (the church has published an extensive list of prayers), study their faith and take action (here's a list of resources). Educational elements that comprise the religious invigoration effort serve to educate readers about the First Amendment and the Founders' take on religious expression.
The Bishops' web site provides a recap of some of the profound statements about personal expression that were made by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. They read:
George Washington: "If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed in the Convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it; and if I could now conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that noone would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution." (Letter to the United Baptist Churches in Virginia, 1789.)
George Washington: “[T]he conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be  extensively accommodated to them…” (Letter to the Annual Meeting of Quakers, 1789.)
Thomas Jefferson: “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.” (Letter to New London Methodist, 1809.)
James Madison: “[T]he equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience is held by the same tenure with all our other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consult the Declaration of Rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the basis and foundation of Government, it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis.” (Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment, 1785.) (Internal quotation marks omitted.)
James Madison: “[W]e hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion, or the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.” (Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment, 1785.) (Internal citation and quotations omitted.)
The main goal of the campaign is to support religious liberty, while standing firm on Christian principles -- particularly when it comes to the Church's stance against the contraceptive mandate. Among the elements published on the Bishops' web site is a prayer for religious freedom that drives home the Catholic Church's beliefs on the matter:
O God our Creator,
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.
We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.
Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be "one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
A full list of events is published as well, highlighting the diverse and massive efforts the church is taking in communities across America to tackle the important Constitutional issue of religious freedom. Many churches throughout America will also be ringing bells on June 21 and July 4 to mark the beginning and end of the efforts.
The accompanying events, too, will offer youths and adults, alike, the opportunity to worship God, while reconnecting with an issue of prime importance -- the freedom of speech and religion.
In New York City, for instance, the Diocese of Brooklyn is observing the effort with an aggressive, non-partisan voter registration drive over the next four months. On Friday, Catholic youths from across Brooklyn and Queens will come together for a 12-hour prayer marathon.
In Florida, special masses will be held to encourage believers to stand up for their beliefs. And the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., has setup a special web site and social media campaign to promote its events and efforts. The efforts are diverse, to say the least.
Below, see a video that the Washington Archdiocese created to showcase the meaning of religious freedom:
In short, it is the element of government coercion against conscience, and government intrusion into the ordering of Church institutions. As Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, testified to Congress: “This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.” (Oral Testimony Before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, Feb. 28, 2012.) [...]
The Administration’s central claim is that contraceptive services are “free” because they save money on childbirths that enrollees in the plan would otherwise have – but that just means premiums paid by a religious organization for live births will pay for contraception and sterilization instead. A proposed “accommodation” for religious organizations covered by the mandate, while not in final form, offers to have insurers or other third parties impose the objectionable coverage – but this only deprives the employer of the ability to provide coverage to its employees that is consistent with its values, and it disregards the conscience rights of both insurers and employees. However the funding is worked out, the simple offer of health coverage by a religious employer will become the “trigger” for ensuring that all its employees receive morally objectionable services in their health plan.
You can find out more about the Catholic Church's efforts to defend religious liberty and the "Fortnight for Freedom" here.