The U.S. bishops have called for the fortnight in response to growing threats to religious liberty, most notably a federal mandate that will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
The mandate includes a very narrow exemption, but it excludes the majority of religious institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies.
Religious leaders and individuals around the country have spoken out against the mandate and the threat it poses to religious liberty. They have urged the Obama administration to broaden the exemption so that religious organizations are not forced to choose between violating their beliefs and shutting their doors.
Despite widespread objection, the Obama administration finalized the mandate without change, while offering promises of a future “accommodation” for other organizations – a move that has already been criticized as inadequate.
The mandate is currently being challenged by lawsuits filed by more than 50 plaintiffs, including colleges, U.S. states, dioceses, nonprofit organizations and private business owners.
In addition, Archbishop Lori said, the laity can become involved in other key ways, including educational efforts regarding religious freedom.
He noted that one of the main objectives of the Fortnight for Freedom is “to make sure that all of us, but especially our young, understand and accept what the Church teaches on religious liberty, and that we understand and accept gratefully our heritage as Americans.”
This type of education is critical, and it is best done “in the home,” he said, explaining that families must work to educate the young on the importance of religious freedom.
Prayer is also a significant way in which the laity can participate in the fortnight, the archbishop observed.
“While we will have a lot of coverage of the large Masses, we’re also encouraging family prayer and private prayer by distributing prayer cards,” he explained.
The bishops are urging Catholics to pray the Rosary and calling for “moments when both families and individuals would simply pray for the restoration and protection of our religious freedoms,” he noted.
He added that study guides for families and children have been developed and are available online, as well as through the Catholic school system.
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Archbishop Lori also encouraged “advocacy” with public officials.
“It’s very important that elected politicians hear, not so much from the bishops, but rather from Catholics and from all people of good will who are participating in this fortnight with us,” he said.
A legislative attempt to ensure a thorough religious exemption from the mandate was narrowly defeated in the Senate on March 1. Other legislation to defend religious freedom in the face of the mandate has been introduced but is not expected to come to a vote in the near future.