The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops on Thursday issued a proclamation calling for every priest, parish and layperson to participate in a “great national campaign” to defend religious liberty, which they said is “under attack, both at home and abroad.”
They urged every diocese to hold a “Fortnight for Freedom” during the two weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, for parishioners to study, pray and take public action to fight what they see as the government’s attempts to curtail religious freedom.
“To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other,” said the statement, issued by the bishops’ ad hoc committee on religious freedom.
For more than half a year, the bishops have put the religious liberty issue front and center, but it has not yet galvanized the Catholic laity and has even polarized the church’s liberal and conservative flanks. In an election year, liberal Catholics have accused the bishops of making the church an arm of the Republican Party in the drive to defeat President Barack Obama — an accusation that the bishops reject.
“This ought not to be a partisan issue,” the bishops say in their statement in a section addressed to political leaders. “The Constitution is not for Democrats or Republicans or independents. It is for all of us, and a great nonpartisan effort should be led by our elected representatives to ensure that it remains so.”
In the document, the bishops seek to explain that their alarm is not only about the mandate in the health reform act that requires even Catholic colleges and hospitals to have insurance plans that cover birth control. They cite seven examples of what they say are violations of religious freedom, including immigration laws in several states that they say make it illegal to minister to illegal immigrants.
They also assert that the government has violated the religious freedom of Catholics by cutting off contracts to Catholic agencies. Several states have denied financing to Catholic agencies that refused to place foster children with gay parents. And the federal government refused to reauthorize a grant to a Catholic immigration organization that served victims of sex trafficking because as a Catholic group, it would not provide or refer women to services for abortion and birth control.
Quoting from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the bishops say that unjust laws should be either changed or resisted. In this passage, the bishops seem to refer to the recent attempt by Obama to accommodate their objection to the health-care mandate, by ordering the insurance companies, and not the Catholic institutions, to pay for birth control coverage.
“In the face of an unjust law,” the bishops wrote, “an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them.”