Posts Tagged ‘Fortnight for Freedom’

Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

Happy Fourth of July!

Independence Day, tomorrow, is also the conclusion of our Fortnight for Freedom, our two-weeks of prayer, penance, and advocacy on behalf of our “first and most cherished freedom,” that of religion.  We thank God for it, and ask for the fortitude – – like that characterizing John the Baptist, John Fisher, and Thomas More, saints whose feasts we celebrate during the Fortnight – – in defending it.

Couple of weeks ago, I visited the Albanian Islamic Center on Victory Boulevard in Staten Island.  (You may have seen the coverage in last week’s Catholic New York).  What a grand day it was!  I felt very much at home, and was welcomed as a family member.  As one of the Imams pointed out, of course I was a family member, since we were all children of the same one, true God, the God of Abraham, the God revealed to and by Israel, Jesus, and Mohammed.  With the same Father, the Imam concluded, we’re brothers and sisters!

One of the many fond memories of the visit was how glowingly the Imams and the people spoke of their love for America.  The Moslems were clear that what drew them to our country was, yes, the promise of economic prosperity, and the appeal of Democracy, but also, religious freedom.  Many of them were fleeing homelands where people of different creeds fought, often violently, and distrusted each other, and where governments opposed and oppressed religion.

Here, they boasted with obvious relief and gratitude, people of faith work together, trust each other, live next to each other, and welcome each other, as my visit displayed.

And here, the Imams and their people remarked, government protects religious liberty, and doesn’t impede or restrict it.  In America, my Islamic friends observed, the conviction is that freedom of religion is a given in human nature, self-evident and given by God, to use the vocabulary of the Founding Fathers, not a concession or favor from big government.  Here, they sighed in relief, the government leaves us alone, allowing us the free exercise of our religion.  Here, they concluded, religion was looked upon as a plus, a blessing, to society.

Those radiant comments seemed even more compelling since, as we spoke, one could see the Statue of Liberty in the harbor; that the day I visited was right before our opening of the Fortnight for Freedom; and that Independence Day was near.

Part of my prayer this Fourth of July will be that my Islamic neighbors will never regret their decision to come here, and that the promise of religious liberty they found so magnetic will never become a sham in this “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

Insights from Robert P. George

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

This Sunday’s New York Times Book Review has a glowing review of Professor Robert P. George’s excellent new book, Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism.  Kay S. Hymowitz, the reviewer, adroitly notes that the book is “more than anything a plea for liberty of conscience, or more, specifically, for religious liberty.  Religion, [George] reasons, should be thought of as ‘conscientious truth-seeking regarding the ultimate sources of meaning and value’ and, therefore, ‘a crucial dimension of human well being and fulfillment.’”

The timing of this review was particularly serendipitous as it ran during our observation of the Fortnight for Freedom However, Professor George is a friend of mine, and I find his insights to be always timely and on target!

Fortnight For Freedom

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Standing in New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty is one of our most beloved landmarks, both as New Yorkers and as Americans.  So many of our ancestors fondly recalled seeing Lady Liberty, their first vision of a new homeland.  Many of them told the story of seeing her for the first time, and not a few of them had to pause in retelling it because of a lump in their throat or a tear in their eye.

Even those of us who were born in America cherish the Statue of Liberty, and, even more importantly, what it stands for.  Who indeed can fail to be moved by the line from Emma Lazarus’ famous poem:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”

That atmosphere of liberty is so much a part of the American experience and heritage.  Of course, most of us did not have to travel far and suffer hardship to glimpse the torch of the Statue, and to embrace her promise of freedom.  Most newcomers today do not come by ship, and so never set eyes upon her.  We New Yorkers, frequently in a rush to our next destination, don’t even look out into the Harbor very often.

So it would be easy for us to take the Statue of Liberty for granted, as just another landmark for tourists to visit.  And it would be all too easy to forget how precious — and fragile — is that breath of freedom that our forerunners yearned for so ardently.  This desire for freedom was written into the human heart by God, and exalted in God’s word in the Bible.  It is expressed so powerfully in the founding documents of our nation, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  It is the ideal to which all our national institutions aspire, and which they are bound to protect and respect.  It is for freedom that so many of our brothers and sisters have been willing to sacrifice their lives to defend.

I don’t wish to push this analogy too far, but in recent years it has become a bit more difficult to “breathe free” as deeply as we would like.  The atmosphere is not quite so clear and mild any more.  Our liberty — like clean air — isn’t something we can take for granted.

This is the reason that the Bishops of the United States have called upon all Catholics, and all people of good will, to spend the days from June 21 through July 4 as a Fortnight for Freedom.  These fourteen days are designed to raise awareness and to encourage action on a number of the current challenges to religious liberty.  These include:

  • The HHS mandate, which presumes to intrude upon the very definition of faith and ministry, and could cause believers to violate their consciences.
  • Impending Supreme Court rulings that could redefine marriage, which will present a host of difficulties to institutions and people who stand on their faith-based understanding of authentic marriage as between one man and one woman
  • Proposed legislation at the national and state levels that would expand abortion rights, legalize assisted suicide, restrict immigrants from full participation in society, and limit the ability of Church agencies to provide humanitarian services.
  • Government intrusion into the rights and duties of parents regarding their children.
  • Overt persecution of believers in many countries of the world.

My brother bishops and I are encouraging people to offer prayers to God, the source of our freedom, that we may fully enjoy the liberty that was sought by those who came to our shores.  We are also urging practical action to defend our freedom.

Our two weeks begin tomorrow, June 21, and include moving feasts, such as June 22, the feast of Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher, both martyrs in England as they prophetically defended the rights of the Church against intrusion by the crown; June 24, the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, the one who defended God’s law to a tyrant and lost his head because of his courage; and, of course, Independence Day.

We must never forget the power of the American promise, which was passed on to us by our ancestors, and which we hold in trust for generations to come.

And, like Lady Liberty, may we always be proud to lift high the torch of freedom and hope to those who yearn for it today.

Freedom is Worth Defending

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

In my recent Catholic New York column, I wrote about why religious freedom is worth protecting. Let me share an excerpt with you:

Maybe some folks are a little tired of hearing or talking about it, but our priests who are there “on the ground” tell me I should not flag in presenting and explaining the Church’s high profile posture in our defense of religious freedom.

We’ve prayed about it—and will intensify our prayers during the upcoming Fortnight for Freedom—written about it, spoken of it, given endless interviews on it, and brought our case to the White House, Congress and, now, to the courts.

It’s not a struggle we asked for. I wish it would end. And it could so very easily.

All the government has to do is acknowledge that it has no business defining what a Church considers to be its essential ministry. That means creating an exemption based on federal laws dating back at least 40 years. These broader exemptions keep the government from deciding who is “religious enough” to enjoy religious freedom protection, instead covering all stakeholders who object in conscience.

You can read the whole column here.