A rally for religious freedom was held on Fountain Square last summer. In his letter in the May issue of The Catholic Telegraph, Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr urges Catholics of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to participate in this year's coming Fortnight for Freedom. (CT Photo/John Stegeman)
The following letter from Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr appears in the May edition of The Catholic Telegraph.
My Dear Friends in Christ,
Once again, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is calling for a Fortnight for Freedom from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More — to Independence Day on July 4 to highlight the threats to our religious freedom. I urge all of the faithful to participate to whatever degree they are able. Although leadership from the bishops on this matter is important, grass roots participation is crucial in a democracy such as ours.
Some people have made light of the challenge facing people of faith in the United States today. They are in denial. The threat is real and it is grave.
Most pressingly, organizations not qualifying for a very narrow “religious exemption” face an August 1 deadline for complying with a mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) that they provide employees with health care plans covering free contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs, regardless of any moral or religious objections. This could affect Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities.
A so-called “accommodation” offered by the HHS earlier this year denies the fact that institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education, and Catholic charities are ministries integral to our faith and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches. Their employees would be required to have the illicit coverage under a separate policy, with no way to opt out. It is unclear how these separate policies would be funded, and what role the ministries would have in paying for and facilitating morally illicit activities.
In addition, the latest proposal from HHS refuses to acknowledge conscience rights of business owners who operate their businesses according to their faith and moral values.
The general counsel of the USCCB rightly states that the current proposed revisions of the Obama Administration’s contraceptive mandate are “an unprecedented …violation of religious liberty by the federal government.”
If you have been following this issue in The Catholic Telegraph, you know that the trend in federal court decisions regarding legal challenges to the HHS mandate is positive. However, this issue will certainly be settled by the Supreme Court unless a legislative solution is found.
So what can you do?
• Be informed about the issue. Go to www.catholiccincinnati.org and click on “Preserve Religious Freedom” on the bottom right of the home page. There you will find a locally produced video and up-to-date information, plus links to the USCCB website.
• Answer the “Call to Prayer” from the USCCB. While the mandate is being challenged in the courts, the “Call to Prayer” asks that Catholics celebrate Eucharistic holy hours monthly, pray the rosary daily, say special prayers of the faithful at all Masses, fast and abstain from meat on Fridays, and observe a second Fortnight for Freedom this summer.
• In addition, during that Fortnight, attend any special prayer opportunities available in your parish, and participate in Mass on July 4, the culmination of the Fortnight.
• Display the “Preserve Religious Freedom” sign to be printed in the June issue of The Catholic Telegraph. The Archdiocese has also made it possible for parishes to buy sturdy yard signs with the same message and same design to make our public witness visible throughout our 19 counties.
As Pope Francis has reminded us, one of the primary missions of the Church as the Body of Christ is to serve the poor. This we do with our ministries of education, health care, and charity that serve all people regardless of faith, economic position, or immigration status. The threats to our religious freedom – to the very ability of Catholic institutions to act as Catholic ministries – put that service in danger. Please join with our fellow Catholics, and with people of other faiths and no faith, to preserve the God-given and Constitutionally-protected religious freedom of everyone.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Dennis M. Schnurr
Archbishop of Cincinnati