She suggested that regular Massgoers would be much more likely be aware of the U.S. bishops’ pro-religious freedom initiatives which have aimed to help Catholics understand their right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.
The bishops have also sought to explain “the very real and aggressive threats to our right to free exercise that have been proposed by not only this administration, but by others before it.”
“I think the bishops have done a terrific job educating Catholics who practice their faith regularly and making them aware of the victories that we've had, also the continuing threats,” she said.
“It’s very important for Catholics to be unified in our very swift and decisive responses to these kind of things,” FioRito continued. “Once you open the door and allow discrimination based on a person’s religion, it tends to have a domino effect, not only to other religious freedoms held by Catholics, but then by our Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters and our Muslim brothers and sisters and also our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
One way to bridge the gap with Catholics who are less consistent or aware about religious freedom efforts are through “kitchen table” or “over the backyard fence” conversations, some of which are now taking place on social media, FioRito suggested.
“But the way is, first of all, to understand what you're talking about yourself, and then secondly, to be able to explain why it is that it’s so important to be able to protect religious liberty.”
In her case, FioRito links conversations on the topic to her parents’ upbringing in Scotland, where Christmas was not a legal holiday until 1958. It was considered a “papist” holiday. Her parents’ memories of Christmas morning are about their fathers getting up for work because it was a regular workday.
“I had a very personal appreciation of what it means to be an American and to be able to live out your faith in the public square,” she said.
“Sometimes people don't even think about the many ways that involve our freedom to practice our religion,” she said. She invoked the examples of a Catholic post office employee being allowed to wear ashes on her forehead on Ash Wednesday, or a Sikh police officer being allowed to wear his headwear on the job.
She discussed the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which involved a public high school football coach who prayed on the field after games. The court decided that the government may not suppress an individual from engaging in personal religious observance, but some have misrepresented it as a decision that would force public school children to read the Bible, FioRito said.
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“You have to be an informed person and say ‘that is simply absurd’. The facts of this case are totally different, and it didn't involve any kind of coercion for someone to pray.”
FioRito encouraged conversations that make a Catholic case with “facts, reason and compassion for everyone in our community who wishes to practice their faith openly and freely.”
“It’s really important to understand, and to make people know in a friendly but educated way, that this is why this is important,” she said. “This could really restrict things that affect you right now, like your ability to not have to go to work on Christmas Day. That's a very ingrained holiday here in the United States, but that doesn't mean it always has to be, either.”