The bishops of the Cleveland and Youngstown dioceses are among Catholic leaders across the nation who are preparing to participate in a campaign aimed at overturning the contraception component of the Affordable Care Act.
Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week period called for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, begins June 21 and ends July 4. It is designed to rally support for the protection of religious freedom and is intended to voice opposition to the decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to require most Catholic organizations and employers to provide health-plan coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs — services that are contrary to their religious beliefs.
Since the mandate was announced last year, the U.S. bishops have advocated for an expansion of its religious exemption. They are billing Fortnight as a time of prayer, study and public action aimed at emphasizing religious freedom.
In addition, the Cleveland–based law firm Jones–Day is representing 43 Catholic diocese, schools, hospitals and social service agencies in 12 lawsuits filed in federal courts across the United States, challenging the Health and Human Services mandate as a violation of religious freedom under the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Both Bishop George V. Murry, of the Youngstown diocese, and Bishop Richard G. Lennon, of the Cleveland diocese, will begin the Fortnight for Freedom initiative by celebrating Mass at 12:10 p.m. June 21 at St. Columba Cathedral in Youngstown and at 5:10 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Cleveland, respectively.
Lennon and Murry have expressed that the issue is more than a Catholic issue in columns they have written in their diocesan newspapers. They are encouraging other faith groups to join in the protest.
“Together, we can make a difference” Lennon wrote. “For this is not just about the faith we cherish so deeply but all those who cherish their own faith traditions as well.”
Lennon has invited church leaders from the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Romanian Byzantine Catholic Diocese of Canton and the Byzantine Catholic Diocese of St. Josaphat in Parma to join him at a special Mass to conclude Fortnight at noon July 4 at St. John Cathedral, 1007 Superior Ave. E. He is also asking all parishes in the Cleveland diocese to ring their church bells at noon on Independence Day as a sign of support. Parish pastors are also being asked to consider having a prayer service during the two-week period.
In the Youngstown diocese, an informational forum on religious freedom will be presented, after the June 21 Mass in the parish hall at St. Columba, at West Wood and Elm Streets. The forum will include presentations from representatives of Catholic Charities and the diocesan Office of Pro-Life, Marriage and Family Life.
Murry is asking parishes to pray for religious freedom at all Masses during the Fortnight period and to make available bulletin inserts from the bishops’ conference on the meaning of religious liberty and current threats to that freedom. Murry will also be among several speakers at a rally for religious freedom at noon June 26 at the park next to the Stark County Courthouse in downtown Canton.
“While the Catholic Bishops of the United States have called for universal health insurance for over 50 years, the HHS mandate marks the first time in our nation’s history that a religious organization is being forced to purchase a product that directly violates our beliefs,” Murry wrote.
“This is an unprecedented attack on our First Amendment Right to freedom of religion.”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.