More Than Freedom of Worship
The bishops emphasized that religious freedom is more than merely the freedom to worship, but includes the ability to “make our contribution to the common good of all Americans.”
They warned that all citizens will suffer if the work of religious Americans in education, health care, aid to the poor and other social services is stifled.
This is “not a Catholic issue” but “an American issue,” they insisted.
Religious citizens are not asking for “special privileges and benefits,” they observed, but merely for their God-given religious freedom to contribute to the common good to be respected.
The bishops then explained the distinction between conscientious objection – which allows relief from a just law for reasons of conscience – and an unjust law, which is not a true law, and cannot be obeyed.
Americans cannot seek a mere “accommodation” from unjust laws, but “must have the courage not to obey them,” they said.
Acknowledging “the much graver plight” of Christians around the world, they also warned that if “religious liberty is eroded here at home, American defense of religious liberty abroad is less credible.”
“Urgent need” for renewed energy
In response to the situation, the bishops called for the special observance of a “fortnight for freedom” from June 21 to July 4, calling on their fellow bishops and other religious institutions and leaders to arrange local events to emphasize the importance of religious liberty.
They noted that during this two-week period leading up to Independence Day, the Church’s liturgical calendar celebrates “a series of great martyrs” who were oppressed by political powers.
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They also encouraged clergy to use this year’s Nov. 25 Solemnity of Christ the King, a feast that originated in “resistance to totalitarian incursions against religious liberty,” to preach boldly about religious freedom.
Acknowledging that “the work of politics is properly that of committed and courageous lay Catholics,” the bishops urged the active involvement of the laity in defending Americans’ religious liberty.
The bishops also made a specific appeal to writers, artists, producers, publishers, filmmakers and bloggers to “use their skills and talents in defense of our first freedom.”
They recalled the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who stressed “the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity” to defend the participation of faithful individuals in the American public square.