An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops





Friday Fast: June 6, 2014

Posted Jun. 5, 2014 by DOM No comments yet

fortnight logo

Intention: As we approach Pentecost Sunday, we ask for the Holy Spirit’s protection of our first, most cherished liberty and the grace to stand united in prayer and service during the upcoming Fortnight for Freedom.

Reflection: The Fortnight for Freedom begins on June 21. Let us prepare for this powerful witness by asking the Holy Spirit for a fruitful time of renewal in our country to celebrate the values of life, marriage, and religious liberty. How will you serve during this year’s Fortnight?


Friday Fast: May 16th, 2014

Posted May. 15, 2014 by DOM No comments yet

May 16 Meme

Intention: Lord, help us always to follow the Gospel call to serve “the least of these.”

Reflection: The Fortnight for Freedom is coming next month (June 21 – July 4).  The two-week celebration will focus on the theme, “Freedom to Serve,” emphasizing the link between religious liberty and service to the poor and vulnerable.

Fortnight Freedom Flag

As Catholics, we believe that the gift of our faith is to share the light of Christ with all people. The teaching of our Catholic faith “obliges us to work together with fellow citizens for the common good of all who live in this land” and around the world.  This includes the freedom to serve with Christian love and humility all those around us and share the teachings of our Lord.  In loving him more, honoring him steadfastly and serving him as disciples, we naturally serve others in the same way.

In a recent homily, Pope Francis emphasized charity as the “greatest act of holiness [that] relates to the flesh of our brother and the flesh of Jesus Christ.”

Did You Know?: The USCCB has prayer resources for the Fortnight for Freedom, including a Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty.  You can pray for religious freedom at home, school, work, or in your parish!  You can also attend special Masses to celebrate the Fortnight; if you are not able to travel to Baltimore or Washington, DC, the Masses will be televised nationally, so check your local listings!


Sunday Pope Quote: Bl. John Paul II on freedom

Posted Jul. 1, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 2 comments

We are beginning the home stretch of the Fortnight for Freedom. Today’s Sunday Pope Quote is from Letter to Families by Bl. John Paul II and is about the word of the hour – “freedom.”

Bl. John Paul II: “We thus come to the very heart of the Gospel truth about freedom. The person realizes himself by the exercise of freedom in truth. Freedom cannot be understood as a license to do absolutely anything: it means a gift of self. Even more: it means an interior discipline of the gift. The idea of gift contains not only the free initiative of the subject, but also the aspect of duty. All this is made real in the ‘communion of persons.’ We find ourselves again at the very heart of each family.”

Letter to Families, no. 14, emphasis original


Fortnight for Freedom, Day 10: Open letter from ecumenical and interreligious leaders

Posted Jun. 30, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

In January 2012, 39 leaders of 33 religious communities jointly issued an open letter about the importance of marriage and religious freedom. This letter, together with the December 2010 letter “The Protection of Marriage: A Shared Commitment” demonstrate that marriage and religious freedom are not concerns only for Catholics, or even for Christians, but for many people of differing faiths. Below is the full text of the January 2012 and a list of signers.

More: News release *** Backgrounder on the open letter *** Printable PDF version *** Executive Summary

Marriage and Religious Freedom:

Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together

Dear Friends:

The promotion and protection of marriage—the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife—is a matter of the common good and serves the wellbeing of the couple, of children, of civil society and all people.The meaning and value of marriage precedes and transcends any particular society, government, or religious community.It is a universal good and the foundational institution of all societies.It is bound up with the nature of the human person as male and female, and with the essential task of bearing and nurturing children.

As religious leaders across a wide variety of faith communities, we join together to affirm that marriage in its true definition must be protected for its own sake and for the good of society. We also recognize the grave consequences of altering this definition. One of these consequences—the interference with the religious freedom of those who continue to affirm the true definition of “marriage”—warrants special attention within our faith communities and throughout society as a whole.For this reason, we come together with one voice in this letter.

Some posit that the principal threat to religious freedom posed by same-sex “marriage” is the possibility of government’s forcing religious ministers to preside over such “weddings,” on pain of civil or criminal liability.While we cannot rule out this possibility entirely, we believe that the First Amendment creates a very high bar to such attempts.

Instead, we believe the most urgent peril is this:forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations—throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies—to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalent of marital sexual conduct.There is no doubt that the many people and groups whose moral and religious convictions forbid same-sex sexual conduct will resist the compulsion of the law, and church-state conflicts will result.

These conflicts bear serious consequences.They will arise in a broad range of legal contexts, because altering the civil definition of “marriage” does not change one law, but hundreds, even thousands, at once.By a single stroke, every law where rights depend on marital status—such as employment discrimination, employment benefits, adoption, education, healthcare, elder care, housing, property, and taxation—will change so that same-sex sexual relationships must be treated as if they were marriage.That requirement, in turn, will apply to religious people and groups in the ordinary course of their many private or public occupations and ministries—including running schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other housing facilities, providing adoption and counseling services, and many others.

So, for example, religious adoption services that place children exclusively with married couples would be required by law to place children with persons of the same sex who are civilly “married.”Religious marriage counselors would be denied their professional accreditation for refusing to provide counseling in support of same-sex “married” relationships.Religious employers who provide special health benefits to married employees would be required by law to extend those benefits to same-sex “spouses.”Religious employers would also face lawsuits for taking any adverse employment action—no matter how modest—against an employee for the public act of obtaining a civil “marriage” with a member of the same sex.This is not idle speculation, as these sorts of situations have already come to pass.

Even where religious people and groups succeed in avoiding civil liability in cases like these, they would face other government sanctions—the targeted withdrawal of government co-operation, grants, or other benefits.

For example, in New Jersey, the state cancelled the tax-exempt status of a Methodist-run boardwalk pavilion used for religious services because the religious organization would not host a same-sex “wedding” there.San Francisco dropped its $3.5 million in social service contracts with the Salvation Army because it refused to recognize same-sex “domestic partnerships” in its employee benefits policies.Similarly, Portland, Maine, required Catholic Charities to extend spousal employee benefits to same-sex “domestic partners” as a condition of receiving city housing and community development funds.

In short, the refusal of these religious organizations to treat a same-sex sexual relationship as if it were a marriage marked them and their members as bigots, subjecting them to the full arsenal of government punishments and pressures reserved for racists.These punishments will only grow more frequent and more severe if civil “marriage” is redefined in additional jurisdictions.For then, government will compel special recognition of relationships that we the undersigned religious leaders and the communities of faith that we represent cannot, in conscience, affirm.Because law and government not only coerce and incentivize but also teach, these sanctions would lend greater moral legitimacy to private efforts to punish those who defend marriage.

Therefore, we encourage all people of good will to protect marriage as the union between one man and one woman, and to consider carefully the far-reaching consequences for the religious freedom of all Americans if marriage is redefined.We especially urge those entrusted with the public good to support laws that uphold the time-honored definition of marriage, and so avoid threatening the religious freedom of countless institutions and citizens in this country.Marriage and religious freedom are both deeply woven into the fabric of this nation.

May we all work together to strengthen and preserve the unique meaning of marriage and the precious gift of religious freedom.

Sincerely Yours:

Rev. Leith Anderson
National Association of Evangelicals

Johann Christoph Arnold
Senior Pastor
Bruderhof Communities

Randall A. Bach
Open Bible Churches

Dr. Gary M. Benedict
The Christian and Missionary Alliance

The Rev. John F. Bradosky
North American Lutheran Church

Glenn Burris, Jr.
The Foursquare Church

Bishop H. David Burton
Presiding Bishop
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Dr. Ronald W. Carpenter, Sr.
Presiding Bishop
International Pentecostal Holiness Church

Rabbi Abba Cohen
Vice President for Federal Affairs
Washington Director
Agudath Israel of America

Most Rev. Salvatore J. Cordileone
Bishop of Oakland
USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage

Nathan J. Diament
Executive Director for Public Policy
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America

Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Most Rev. Robert Duncan
Archbishop, Anglican Church in North America
Bishop, Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh

Dr. Barrett Duke
Vice President for Public Policy and Research
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Rev. Jim Eschenbrenner
Executive Pastor
General Council of Christian Union Churches

Dr. William J. Hamel
Evangelical Free Church of America

Rev. Dr. Ron Hamilton
Conference Minister
Conservative Congregational Christian Conference

Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison
Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod

John Hopler
Great Commission Churches

Dr. Bill Hossler
Missionary Church, Inc.

Clyde M. Hughes
General Overseer
International Pentecostal Church of Christ

Rev. Kenneth D. Hunn
Executive Director
The Brethren Church

David W. Kendall
Free Methodist Church USA

Dr. Richard Land
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Most Rev. William E. Lori
Bishop of Bridgeport
USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty

Dr. Jo Anne Lyon
Chair Board of General Superintendents
The Wesleyan Church

James W. Murray
Executive Director
General Association of General Baptists

Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades
Bishop of Ft. Wayne – South Bend
USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

Commissioner William A. Roberts
National Commander
The Salvation Army

Rocky Rocholl
Fellowship of Evangelical Churches

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

David T. Roller
Free Methodist Church USA

Matthew A. Thomas
Free Methodist Church USA

Dr. Joseph Tkach
President & Pastor General
Grace Communion International

Berten A. Waggoner
National Director
Vineyard USA

W. Phillip Whipple
United Brethren in Christ Church, USA

Dr. John P. Williams, Jr.
General Superintendent
Evangelical Friends Church – Eastern Region

David P. Wilson
General Secretary
Church of the Nazarene

Dr. George O. Wood
General Superintendent
Assemblies of God

Fortnight for Freedom posts:


Fortnight for Freedom, Day 9: Two handouts about marriage and religious freedom

Posted Jun. 29, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

The Fortnight for Freedom offers a number of helpful resources, websites, and downloadable handouts at its Educational Resources webpage. We encourage you to consult this page for the big picture about religious freedom and current challenges faced by it today.

We’d like to highlight two resources that speak specifically about the connection between marriage and religious freedom. These are both PDFs that can be downloaded, printed, and handed out at your parish, to family and friends, or in a classroom.

USCCB Fact Sheet: Forcing Religious Groups to Host Same-Sex “Marriage” Ceremonies (Summer 2012)

  • Part of the Fortnight for Freedom series “Religious Liberty Under Attack: A Concrete Example.” Read the rest of the flyers at the Educational Resources webpage.

FAQs: Religious Liberty and Marriage

Next: an open letter on marriage and religious freedom from ecumenical and interreligious leaders

Fortnight for Freedom posts:


Fortnight for Freedom, Day 7: A Red Herring…and the Real Threats to Religious Liberty

Posted Jun. 27, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Two related FAQs today: #4 and #5

But would ministers really be forced to officiate at the “wedding” of two persons of the same sex?

This question is a red herring. In other words, it is a false caricature of the real concerns about religious liberty, and is actually used to distract from the real concerns. It is unlikely in the extreme that the State will force ministers and churches to officiate same-sex “marriage” ceremonies, although it is easily foreseeable that many church ministers and communities could be sued in court over this question. There are, however, other more probable and pervasive concerns.

Red herring (n): something intended to divert attention from the real matter at hand; a misleading clue. (Word buffs would be interested to know that this – literally – colorful phrase received its meaning from the supposed use of smoked fish by fugitives to put bloodhounds off the scent.) In this context, the “red herring” is the assertion that the threat to religious liberty by redefining marriage is that ministers would be forced to officiate at ceremonies contrary to their beliefs about marriage. While laws mandating churches to hold same-sex “weddings” have been passed or proposed in a few countries, so far this threat to religious liberty has not surfaced seriously in the United States. All the same, as the above paragraph states, it is “easily foreseeable” that litigation could commence against churches that continue refusing to host same-sex “weddings.” Only time will tell.

What’s the real threat to religious liberty posed by same-sex “marriage”?

The legal redefinition of marriage can threaten the religious liberty of religious institutions and individuals in potentially numerous ways, involving various forms of government sanction, ranging from court orders compelling action against conscience, to awards of money damages and other financial penalties, to marginalization in public life:

Note the open-ended phrase “potentially numerous” as a descriptor for how changing marriage law could affect religious liberty. Given the pervasiveness of marriage throughout the law (see earlier post), there is no way to know exhaustively exactly what religious liberty conflicts could occur where marriage is redefined.

The following is a categorization of sorts of the various types of religious liberty conflicts that could emerge as a consequence of marriage redefinition laws, with real-life examples.

Compelled Association: the government forces religious institutions to retain as leaders, employees, or members those who obtain legalized same-sex “marriage”; or obligates wedding-related businesses to provide services for same-sex “couples.”

Example: Christian organization in New Jersey found guilty of violating state’s nondiscrimination law for not permitting the civil union ceremony of two women on its property.

Compelled Provision of Special Benefits: the government forces religious institutions to extend any special benefit they afford to actual marriage to same-sex “marriage” as well.

Example: Catholic hospital in New York sued by employee for not providing health benefits to her female “spouse.”

Punishment for Speech: preaching, political action, or conversation reflecting moral opposition to same-sex “marriage” represents actionable “harassment” or “discrimination,” or forbidden “hate speech”.

Example: Consultant for California-based business fired for writing a book in which he argued against redefining marriage.

Exclusion from Accreditation and Licensure: those who adhere to the definition of marriage are excluded from participation in highly regulated professions and quasi-governmental functions, as licenses are revoked and religious institutions lose accredited status.

Example: In New York, town clerks who object to signing same-sex “marriage” licenses have chosen to resign or have faced pressure because of their views.

Exclusion from Government Funding, Religious Accommodations, and Other Benefits: those who adhere to the definition of marriage are excluded from receiving government grants and contracts to provide secular social services, and from various tax exemptions.

Example: Catholic Charities in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC have closed their adoption and foster care services because of laws that would require them to place children with same-sex couples.

Finally, Religious Liberty FAQ #6 lists several more examples of threats to religious liberty that have taken place over the last decade or so:

Have any of these threats come to pass?

Yes. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following: the extension of married student housing to same-sex “married” couples (a Catholic college in MA); the extension of spousal employment benefits to same-sex “domestic partners” (Catholic Charities in Portland, ME); the loss of funding and licenses to provide adoptions for refusal to place with same-sex couples (Catholic Charities in Massachusetts, DC, and Illinois); the imposition of tax penalties for preaching about marriage amendments (Montana); and the loss of state tax exempt status for a religiously-affiliated camp (New Jersey). These threats have been manifest in other countries as well, often to an even more persistent and invasive extent.

Regarding the last sentence’s mention of “persistent and invasive” threats to religious liberty in other countries, just one example would be that of Canada. A recent article cited a number of conflicts between Christians and the government related to marriage law. For example, the bishop of Calgary, Alberta, “was threatened with litigation and charged with a human-rights violation after he wrote a letter to local churches outlining standard Catholic teaching on marriage.” As the author of the article summarizes, “What we’ve discovered in Canada is that…once gay marriage becomes law, critics are often silenced by the force of the law.”

Next: Two handouts on marriage and religious liberty

Fortnight for Freedom posts:




Fortnight for Freedom, Day 6: How could changing the legal definition of marriage have any effect on religious liberty?

Posted Jun. 26, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

Changing the legal term “marriage” is not one change in the law, but rather amounts to thousands of changes at once. The term “marriage” can be found in family law, employment law, trusts and estates, healthcare law, tax law, property law, and many others.

The fact that marriage is deeply embedded in so many aspects of society should come as no surprise to students of Catholic social teaching. Marriage is the foundation of the family, which is the “key cell” of society (CCC, no. 2207; see also CSDC, no. 209ff). Either by its presence or its absence, marriage touches many aspects of everyone’s lives, including aspects that are also regulated by various laws and policies.

These laws affect and pervasively regulate religious institutions, such as churches, religiously-affiliated schools, hospitals, and families.

Note that changes in marriage law will affect not only individuals, but also groups of individuals, i.e. institutions. As we saw in an earlier post, man’s social nature means that religious liberty applies not only to solitary believers but to believers worshiping, acting, and serving as a religious community. By the same token, changing marriage law will jeopardize the religious liberty of both individuals and communities or institutions: hospitals, adoption agencies, etc.

When Church and State agree on what the legal term “marriage” means (the union of one man and one woman), there is harmony between the law and religious institutions. When Church and State disagree on what the term “marriage” means (e.g., if the State redefines marriage in order to recognize so-called same-sex “marriage”), conflict results on a massive scale between the law and religious institutions and families, as the State will apply various sanctions against the Church for its refusal to comply with the State’s definition. Religious liberty is then threatened.

Legal experts on both sides of the marriage debate have agreed that changing the legal definition of marriage will have consequences for religious liberty. See, for example, the 2008 collection of essays in Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts. Co-editor of that volume and current Associate General Secretary of the USCCB Anthony Picarello has described the potential threats to religious liberty as “severe and pervasive.” Continuing, he added that redefining marriage “is going to affect every aspect of church-state relations…because marriage affects just about every area of the law” (“Banned in Boston,” p. 3). Regarding the “various sanctions” available for the State to use against the Church for disagreeing with its stated definition of marriage, we’ll discuss those in a forthcoming post.

(Answer in bold from: Marriage & Religious Liberty FAQ #3)

Next: A red herring…and the real threats to religious liberty

Fortnight for Freedom posts:


Fortnight for Freedom, Day 5: How are marriage and religious liberty connected?

Posted Jun. 25, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 4 comments

Marriage (the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife) and religious liberty are two distinct goods that are also related to each other.

Marriage and religious liberty are both goods in their own right, meaning that both deserve our care and protection. The Church does not promote and defend marriage simply out of a concern for possible consequences to religious freedom if marriage were redefined. As said elsewhere on the website, “Marriage must be protected for its own sake, and not just for the sake of preserving religious liberty.” Marriage contributes greatly to the common good and is worth protecting, period.

The protection of each good follows from the duty to protect the inviolable dignity of the human person.

The Church’s teaching on marriage and on religious liberty both find their roots in Christian anthropology, that is, the understanding of the human person and his or her dignity. Concerning marriage, upholding the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman upholds human dignity by, among other things, honoring the uniquely complementary natures of man and woman, their capacity for union and fruitfulness, and the child’s birthright of being given the best chance to know and be raised by his own father and mother. Concerning religious liberty, as was said in a previous post, man’s ability – and responsibility – to seek truth and conform his life to it necessitates religious freedom. In fact, Bl. Pope John Paul II saw religious freedom as so important to human dignity that he called it the “source and synthesis” of rights basic to human flourishing (Centesimus Annus, no. 47). Concern for the human person means concern for marriage, and for religious liberty.

But even more directly, the legal protection of marriage as the union of one man and one woman also protects the religious freedom of those who adhere to that vision of marriage.

More on this later. Suffice it to say that changing the legal definition of marriage will have – and already has had – a direct effect on the ability of persons and institutions who hold a definition of marriage other than that of the state to “live in the truth of [their] faith,” as Bl. John Paul II put it.

Answer from: Marriage & Religious Liberty FAQ #2

Next: How could changing the legal definition of marriage have any effect on religious liberty?

Fortnight for Freedom posts:



Fortnight for Freedom, Day 2: St. Thomas More, Married Saint and Hero of Religious Liberty

Posted Jun. 22, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 2 comments

Picture of St. Thomas More

England has no lack of married saints, or saints that were martyred for defending religious liberty. Earlier, we profiled St. Philip Howard, one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. And today, on the second day of the Fortnight for Freedom, we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas More, husband, father, and martyr under King Henry VIII in 1535. (Today is also the feast day of St. John Fisher, a bishop also martyred in 1535, but here we confine ourselves to married saints.)

The basics:

  • Born February 7, 1478, in London
  • Married Jane Colt in 1505; she died in 1511
  • Married Alice Middleton in 1511
  • Father of four children
  • Imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1534
  • Executed by beheading on July 6, 1535
  • Canonized May 19, 1935 by Pius XI

The Fortnight for Freedom began yesterday, on the vigil of today’s feast day of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. The timing is intentional. Both men faced suffering, imprisonment, and ultimately death because of their allegiance to their faith.

The contours of St. Thomas More’s life are familiar to many, thanks in large part to the 1966 movie A Man for All Seasons. Born into a well situated family, St. Thomas was educated at Oxford University and, after a period of discerning the religious life, became a lawyer and married Jane Colt, daughter of a country nobleman. The two lived an exceptionally happy marriage and welcomed four children into their family, but their life together on earth was cut short with Jane’s death at the age of twenty-two. For the sake of the children, St. Thomas remarried quickly and his new wife, Alice Middleton, proved to be a more than capable stepmother and household manager. St. Thomas grew to love Alice as well, and in his epitaph wrote, “This one [Jane] so lived with me, and the other one [Alice] now so liveth, that it is doubtful whether this or the other were dearer to me” (as quoted by Ferdinand Holbock in Married Saints and Blesseds Through the Centuries, 323).

Difficulties began to besiege St. Thomas in 1522. The current ruler of England, King Henry VIII, was seeking to annul his marriage with his wife Catherine and marry a lady-in-waiting by the name of Anne Boleyn. Catherine, the widow of King Henry’s brother, had borne a number of children, but each died at birth or shortly thereafter, with the exception of Princess Mary. Seeking an heir to the throne, King Henry petitioned Rome in vain to grant him an annulment.

Enter Thomas More. As a well-respected lawyer, St. Thomas was asked by the King for counsel in the “Great Matter” of his desire for an annulment. After reflection and consultation, St. Thomas replied that his opinion was with the pope – the marriage was valid and could not be annulled. This was not the answer King Henry was hoping to hear. And yet not long after, the King appointed St. Thomas to the weighty position of Lord Chancellor, promising him that his conscience in the matter of the marriage would be respected.

Unfortunately for St. Thomas, his stance became a very lonely one, and the King’s promise of protection began to seem very thin. In short order, leading English lords petitioned Rome to change its decision on the marriage; the bishops (save St. John Fisher) officially broke with Rome; Archbishop Cranmer declared the King’s marriage to Catherine annulled; and in 1533 King Henry’s new bride Anne Boleyn was declared Queen of England. St. Thomas declined to attend the coronation.

Finally, events came to a head for St. Thomas. In March 1534 a law was passed that declared potential heirs only the offspring of King Henry and his new wife Anne. The law also declared the King’s marriage to Catherine invalid and blatantly rejected papal authority. All citizens of England – including Thomas More – were obliged to assent to the so-called Succession Oath. On April 13, St. Thomas appeared before the archbishop of Canterbury and refused to take the oath, saying that he could not swear to it without imperiling his eternal soul. The former lord chancellor of England was then thrown into the Tower of London.

There St. Thomas languished, besieged by constant visitors trying to elicit a treasonous statement against the King of England, now declared the head of the newly formed Church of England. All attempts were unsuccessful. Finally, on the basis of false testimony from one Master Rich, St. Thomas was convicted guilty and sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered. King Henry altered this punishment to beheading, and on July 6, 1535, St. Thomas More was martyred.

A faithful husband and father, and a faithful witness to the indissolubility of marriage against immense political pressure, St. Thomas stands as a model for husbands, fathers, lawyers, and all those seeking to preserve the precious right of religious liberty.

Prayer Resource: St. Thomas More holy card from Fortnight for Freedom

Patron of: lawyers, politicians

St. Thomas More, pray for us!


Source of picture

Read More
Tags: Tags: ,


Fortnight for Freedom, Day 1: What is religious freedom?

Posted Jun. 21, 2012 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 2 comments

Today marks the beginning of the Fortnight for Freedom, a special two-week period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action focused on the topic of religious freedom, a core principle in both Christian and American traditions. On the Marriage: Unique for a Reason blog, we’ll be exploring in a particular way the connections between marriage and religious freedom (also called religious liberty).

Today’s topic: What is religious liberty?

Bl. Pope John Paul II described religious liberty as “the right to live in the truth of one’s faith and in conformity with one’s transcendent dignity as a person” (Centesimus Annus, no. 47). As the Holy Father says, religious liberty has much to do with human dignity, specifically with the dignity that men and women have because of their ability – and responsibility – to freely seek the truth, assent to it, and conform their lives to it. The key Second Vatican Council declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae (DH), put it this way:

“It is in accordance with their dignity as persons – that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility – that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth” (DH, no. 2).

In other words, religious liberty is a consequence of man’s identity as truth-seeker: “the right to religious freedom has its foundation…in man’s very nature” (DH, no. 2); “every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious” (DH, no. 3). Society and government, as ordered to the human person, are bound to respect everyone’s right “to live in the truth of [their] faith,” as Bl. John Paul II put it.

What does religious liberty look like?

Because free assent to truth lies at the heart of man’s identity, the Church maintains that “nobody may be forced to act against his convictions, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others, within due limits” (CCC, no. 2106, quoting DH, no. 2). Note the important descriptors offered here: man cannot be compelled to act against his faith, nor can he be prohibited from acting in harmony with his faith. Also, these considerations apply to both private and public actions. In other words, religious freedom is more than just “freedom to worship” or freedom to practice one’s faith alone. It also includes the ability to live out one’s faith in community and in the public sphere. This, too, is a consequence of human nature, as Dignitatis Humanae points out:

“The social nature of man itself requires that he should give external expression to his internal acts of religion…Injury, therefore, is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society” (DH, no. 3).

Later, Dignitatis Humanae specifies that “the social nature of man and the very nature of religion afford the foundation of the right of men freely to hold meetings and to establish educational, cultural, charitable, and social organizations, under the impulse of their own religious sense” (DH, no. 4). By extension, religious liberty applies not only to individuals but also to groups of individuals who practice their faith together (a Church, ecclesial community, or other religious organization).

In conclusion, religious liberty is not an arbitrary right or a “privilege” generously (or grudgingly) bestowed by the government. It is something owed to each and every person due to the human person’s ability and responsibility to order his or her life and action in accordance with his or her faith.

Learn more:

Stay tuned for more about marriage and religious freedom!