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Archbishop Schnurr’s letter for June

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Americans are justly proud of the freedoms secured by the first ten amendments to our Constitution, collectively known as the Bill of Rights. And freedom of religion is cited first: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”

However, it is important to remember that the First Amendment does not create or bestow a uniquely American entitlement. The right to religious liberty belongs to everyone because it comes from God, not government. The Second Vatican Council affirmed that in its Declaration on Religious Freedom.  

The Catholic Church in the United States will highlight that right later this month with its observance of Religious Freedom Week. The week begins with the Feasts of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher on June 22 and ends with the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29. All those saints were martyred for living their faith, the faith we share.

Religious Freedom Week replaces the two-week Fortnight for Freedom, which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops launched in 2012. The shorter time-period should not give the impression that threats to religious liberty are any less of a concern to the bishops.    

In other lands, Christians are still discriminated against, prevented from worshipping, and even martyred. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati and several Eastern Rite Catholic parishes, along with an Antiochian Orthodox parish, formed the One Church of Mercy Committee two years ago to draw attention to this continuing international plight and to promote religious freedom for all.

In the United States, freedom of worship has been a given. “But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families,” as Pope Francis said at Independence Hall in 2015. 

In other words, it is not confined to the walls of churches, mosques, synagogues, and homes. It also extends into the public square, where Catholics are called to act on our beliefs in missionary discipleship. That aspect of religious freedom is under threat in our country as people who live their faith are being marginalized. In one blatant example, a U.S. senator asked a nominee for a federal judgeship, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” 

The hostility behind this question comes from the Church’s counter-cultural approach to marriage, family, and human sexuality. It is telling that 22 U.S. senators found it necessary to sponsor the First Amendment Defense Act, which prohibits the federal government from taking adverse action against individuals or institutions based on their definition of marriage or beliefs about premarital sex. The Catholic bishops of the United States have supported this act. 

The Church’s understanding of marriage, whether sacramental or civil, as the union of one man and one woman is important for people of all faiths and no faith. The family is the basic unit of society. At the same time, the family has also been called “the domestic church.” With Fathers’ Day approaching, I want to note an often-underappreciated role of fathers in this context. 

As I told the Cincinnati Men’s Conference in April, studies have shown that a father’s witness to the faith profoundly affects the faith of his children. One such study, conducted by the government of Switzerland, found that the children of fathers who practice and witness to the faith are 16 times more likely to participate in Mass regularly than are the children of fathers who do not do so. Fathers are obviously crucial in passing on the faith!  

Let us pray, then, that all fathers and stepfathers have the wisdom, courage, and strength to be missionary disciples in their own homes and the freedom to do so in the public square. 

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