From June 21 to July 4, many Catholics across the United States will observe a “Fortnight for Freedom” in defense of religious liberty. They will conduct a two-week campaign inspired and guided by prayer, supplied by study, and informed by catechesis. They will act in peaceful solidarity with friends from other faiths. For fourteen days they will seek also to fortify the true character and heritage of freedom in the United States against false notions of freedom clearly and presently endangering it.
The True Character and Heritage of Freedom
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions” (1730). True freedom flows from the God-given grace of free will, emerging as “the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility.” In action, it becomes “a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness” that “attains its perfection when directed toward God” (CCC, 1731).
The Founding Fathers of the United States recognized this true character of freedom, its strengths and, more importantly, its earthly limits. The governing documents that they drafted express freedom as responsible, human interactions within a known natural order. The Declaration of Independence asserted as “self-evident” truth that liberty is among the “certain unalienable Rights” endowed by a “Creator”. The Bill of Rights later enshrined the true character of freedom as protected rights for all Americans. The First Amendment provided safeguards against any official, established state religion. It also prohibited legal obstacles to the free exercise of faith.
False Notions of Freedom and Its Clear and Present Dangers
But false notions of freedom today endanger the true character and heritage of freedom. An aggressive secularism – realized, for example, in the state mandating abortion, contraception, and sterilization as “preventative” health services as well as attempting to redefine church governance and structures – seeks to reduce freedom to mere license. The realities of false freedom run risks for us all. They abandon responsibility and equate consent with imposing the will of a numerical minority upon a majority. Pledged to no single political party, they define faith simply as private worship that never deserves a place or influence in the public square. They construct a culture – and inform a type of politics – that elevates feeling good ahead of the commonwealth, expects and accepts progress whatever the cost to life, liberty, and happiness, and regresses toward a primitive absence of restraint.
St. Teresa of Avila talked about interior castles of the soul. The “Fortnight for Freedom” presents Catholics an opportunity to fortify true freedom in the soul of the United States. True freedom is never a flight from responsibility but recognition of it. Totalitarianism disguised as toleration is never an acceptable accommodation. True freedom challenges the individual, as it challenged our forefathers and will challenge future generations, to serve as guardian stewards to the point of martyrdom.
For fourteen days, as faithful Catholics and patriotic Americans, protect the character and heritage of true freedom before they’re replaced with false notions of freedom.
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas.