Guest Columnist'Witness to Freedom' campaign: the bishops' wake-up call for Americans

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Catholic dioceses across the United States have begun their yearly "Fortnight for Freedom" event.  Through special masses, ads, and rallies the Council of Bishops seeks to turn the attention of 69 million American Catholics to the steady fraying of religious liberty in our country. 

To do this they've highlighted the stories of Christians who've resisted the power of the state and stuck fast to their beliefs, even to the point of death.  From as far back in history as John the Baptist, to the last century's Edith Stein, to the Copts beheaded last year by ISIS on the beach in Libya, the men and women, "Witnesses to Freedom," extolled by the Bishops' campaign are paragons of courage in the face of oppression.

Is it a stretch to ask modern American Catholics to see themselves as budding "martyrs" facing a tyrannical State?  It may be that this point of view is starting to resonate. 

The rapid cultural shift we've experienced on social and sexual mores has long left the traditionally religious feeling marginalized.  Being pro-life can get one branded as anti-woman, even if one is a woman.  Parents teaching their children Christian concepts of marriage, gender, and sexual morality today can fully expect their teachings to be portrayed as bigoted and ignorant in the media, public schools, and universities.  For the religious, the workplace can feel more and more like an intolerant "politically correct" minefield where any misstep can mean disaster.  Even powerful CEO's and important public figures are not exempt.

This parting of the ways, between Christian morality and that of an increasingly secularized culture, has been coming on for a long time.  But recently something feels different, and that is the harnessing of the might of the government to enforce the new mores.  Perhaps nothing signaled the advent of this change as clearly as President Obama's 2008 campaign statement about white, small town voters in Pennsylvania: "And it's not surprising that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them… as a way to explain their frustrations." 

The last few years have seen regulation upon regulation, ruling upon ruling, dictating one concept of marriage for the whole country, one attitude on gender, and one way of understanding what women need and deserve.  The great power of the state makes it more and more dangerous to even dissent from this imposition of a radical ideology unmoored from any historic understanding of human beings and society--as cake makers and photographers have found out.  

The new gender ideology is no longer confined to odd pockets of academia, but is being actively enforced by the Departments of Education and Justice.  They have directed public schools to allow students to use bathrooms matching their perceived gender, not their biologic gender.  A new rule from the HHS suggests that physicians and hospitals that do not perform abortions or perform transgender surgeries will be punished for discrimination.  And even after many setbacks, the administration continues to harass the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups who cannot in good conscience provide abortifacient contraceptives to their employees.  

The Bishops' "Witnesses to Freedom" campaign shows American Catholics that there is nothing new in being at odds with the ambient culture, and nothing new in standing up to an intolerant government.  Christians have a long and proud history of this, as long as Christian history itself.  Christians today should be no less eager to  defend their human and constitutional right to live in accordance with their consciences. 

The U.S. Bishops are not necessarily predicting a violent martyrdom for American Catholics. But they are issuing a wake-up call.  Liberty of conscience, being a bedrock upon which civil and political freedoms rest, is too crucial a right to give up. 

Image: Brandon Day via

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