Fortnight for Freedom: The Battle for Religious Liberty in America

Throughout the United States, American Catholics are participating in a Fortnight for Freedom. This two-week period, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is a national campaign for religious liberty. The campaign comes at a time during which “[o]ur liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power— St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More,  St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.” Additionally, the campaign is a period of prayer, fasting, civil disobedience, and other activities devoted to defending religious liberty.

Religious liberty is under attack in more realms than one. The current focus, however, is on the Department of Health and Human Services mandate, which forces the Church to provide coverage for abortion inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilizations. The Supreme Court is currently ruling on the constitutionality of the healthcare policy on the grounds of enumerated powers. Other challenges have been brought forth on the grounds of the First Amendment also. According to this article, “forty-three Catholic dioceses and organizations across the country have announced religious liberty lawsuits against the federal government to challenge the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.”

I attended mass at St. Mary Catholic Church in Huntley, Illinois yesterday on the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist and on the First Sunday in the Fortnight for Freedom.

Fr. Jonathan Bakkelund delivered the homily. He spoke with great fervor and urgency on the issue of religious liberty.

He began by discussing the history of religious persecution in America. Then, he said, “This is not a republican or a democratic, a conservative or a liberal issue. This is not a Catholic issue.This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. This is an American issue which threatens the God-given, inalienable rights of every Muslim, every atheist, every man, woman, and child of this great nation. This is an issue of Religious Liberty.”

He explained that so-called accommodation in the mandate for religious employers.
“To qualify for an exemption, you must employ primarily those of your own faith, and serve primarily those of your own faith.  Parishes would be exempted, but Catholic hospitals, universities, charitable groups, relief organizations, and publishing houses would all be excluded. […] It’s never been the government’s job to tell us which babies we can clothe or whose mouths we can feed…it’s never been the government’s job to tell us we’re gonna have to start asking for baptismal certificates at the door.”

In this video, Bishop Joseph R. Cistone says, “The word accommodation is a strange one to me. We have a right to religious freeedom. And so that right has been infringed upon. And now we hear of an accommodation to protect us from that infringement. We want to go back to the right itself. There is no need for an accommodation.”

Fr. Bakkelund continued, “If you study your history books well, every single epic in the history of the world when the Almighty State has attempted to privatize religion, and force her into seclusion, removing her from the public square… every single one of these epics has seen the degradation of the human person.”

He spoke sincerely saying, “As a young priest, I pray, God willing, to serve Our Lord and His Church as a priest for the next fifty years. I am deeply concerned that in those fifty years I could see my work and my ministry become illegal.”

He ended with the following quotation of Pope Saint Pius X:
“Kingdoms and empires have passed away; peoples once renowned for their history and civilization have disappeared; time and again the nations, as though overwhelmed by the weight of years, have fallen asunder; while the Church, indefectible in her essence, united by ties indissoluble with her heavenly Spouse, is here to-day radiant with eternal youth, strong with the same primitive vigor with which she came forth from the Heart of Christ dead upon the Cross. Men powerful in the world have risen up against her. They have disappeared, and she remains. Philosophical systems without number, of every form and every kind, rose up against her, arrogantly vaunting themselves her masters, as though they had at last destroyed the doctrine of the Church, refuted the dogmas of her faith, proved the absurdity of her teachings. But those systems, one after another, have passed into books of history, forgotten, bankrupt; while from the Rock of Peter the light of truth shines forth as brilliantly as on the day when Jesus first kindled it on His appearance in the world, and fed it with His Divine words: “Heaven and earth shall pass, but my words shall not pass” (Matth. xxiv. 35).”

The entire congregation stood and applauded this message. It was the first time in my life that I have heard a homily that roused the whole congregation to such a response.

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