Each year during the two weeks leading up to the Fourth of July the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declare a “Fortnight for Freedom,” a time for Catholics and people of good will to pray, advocate and educate themselves and others on the inviolable human right to the freedom of religion.
This freedom is not simply the right to hold certain beliefs, it includes the freedom to live out one’s faith in one’s daily life; to be free from coercion in faith; and freedom from participating in acts which are contrary to one’s faith and conscience. As the U.S. bishops’ document on religious freedom, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” states:
“Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith? Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas.”
In the First Amendment of the Constitution we read: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
How can we promote religious freedom in our nation and world? Perhaps an old adage “practice what you preach” is a helpful phrase to consider.
As Catholics we believe that we ought to have the freedom to pray and worship as we choose. When we pray, attend Mass, participate in the sacraments and liturgies of the faith we live this belief and strengthen the principle. As active witnesses we not only show that this freedom is cherished by us but also give others the strength and courage to practice their faith openly and freely.
Our faith is not just our private wonderings about things unseen, as some contemporaries may argue. No. Our faith is a lived faith. It is active. When we are active in our faith we show that God’s grace is the fire within us that mobilizes us to do good and avoid evil; to love one another; to care for our neighbor; to even love our enemy.
Let us celebrate our religious freedom by living closer to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
For more information and resources about Fortnight for Freedom, go to the USCCB webpage usccb.org/fortnight.
This is the first part in a three-part series of articles on religious freedom.