Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, has declared the week of June 22 – 29 to be Religious Freedom Week 2018. With a theme of “Serving Others in God’s Love,” this week-long event will focus on praying for the ability of people of faith to serve God in the public square without being impeded by the increasing secularism in our culture.
"Religious freedom allows the space for people of faith to serve others in God's love in ministries like education, adoption and foster care, health care, and migration and refugee services,” the Archbishop writes. “We encourage people of faith to reflect on the importance of religious freedom so that we might have the space to carry out our mission of service and mercy, and we invite everyone to pray for our brothers and sisters who face intense persecution in other parts of the world."
The invitation to participate in this year’s festivities, which will include prayer and public rallies across the country, comes at a time when the faithful are experiencing progress in their efforts to turn back some of the repressive policies of the former administration.
For instance, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued two rules in the past year that rolled back an onerous federal requirement forcing religious employers to provide birth control coverage in their health insurance plans.
The HHS has also announced this year that they are proposing ways to more vigorously enforce 25 existing statutory conscience protections for Americans who are involved in HHS programs in order to protect health care providers with moral and religious convictions from being forced to participate in services that violate their beliefs.
The Department of Justice has also issued a new guidance that expands protection for believers from nondiscrimination laws that mandate who religious employers can hire and fire and whom they can serve. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says government can only limit the free exercise of religion if there is a compelling reason to do so, and even then, it must be done in the least restrictive way possible. Benefits from this change means that even in states with non-discrimination laws, religious charities such as adoption and foster care programs can refuse to place foster children with gay couples without penalty.
The governors of two states, Kansas and Oklahoma, both signed legislation ensuring that faith-based adoption and foster care providers can provide these services in accordance with their deeply held religious beliefs or moral convictions.
The Trump Administration also revoked federal guidelines specifying the right of transgender students to use public restrooms and locker rooms of their choice.
Houses of worship that have been damaged in hurricanes, even if they use taxpayer funds and hire only personnel who espouse their religious beliefs, can receive grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of Christian baker, Jack Phillips, who was sued by a same-sex couple for refusing to bake a cake for their wedding, and whose religious beliefs were treated with disdain during the ensuring legal battle, was yet another big win for the need to respect the rights of believers in America.
The Trump administration is also taking a stand in court on behalf of religious liberty in the cases of students who were declared ineligible for scholarships because they attended a religious school.
This is quite an improvement in the landscape of religious freedom in America since the Fortnight for Freedom was initiated in 2012. At that time, the Department of Justice had announced that it was no longer supporting the Defense of Marriage Act, was constructing laws forcing religious employers such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and EWTN to cover birth control in their insurance policies, denying funds to Catholic agencies who did not comply with government policy in respect to a variety of LGBTQ rights, and advising schools to allow students to use whatever private facilities corresponded to their gender identity rather than their biological gender.
As a result, the bishops instituted the Fortnight for Freedom, a 14-day campaign which would begin every year on June 22, the feast of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher and end on Independence Day, July 4. During this time, the faithful would gather to pray and give public witness to the need to preserve freedom of religion in America.
Even though we’ve seen some impressive gains in the past year, there is still much work to be done! Get involved in this year’s campaign which will take place from June 22 to June 29.
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