June 5, 2018 // National

Serving others in God’s love: Religious Freedom Week

Religious freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.                                      — Pope Francis

WASHINGTON — Catholics across the United States are encouraged to pray and act in support of religious liberty at home and abroad during Serving Others in God’s Love: Religious Freedom Week 2018, which begins on June 22, the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, and ends on June 29, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.
The chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, stated: “Religious freedom allows the space for people of faith to serve others in God’s love in ministries like education, adoption and foster care, health care, and migration and refugee services. We encourage people of faith to reflect on the importance of religious freedom so that we might have the space to carry out our mission of service and mercy, and we invite everyone to pray for our brothers and sisters who face intense persecution in other parts of the world.”

One major area of concern this year is freedom for child welfare service providers. The opioid crisis in the U.S. is putting a strain on the foster care system. The number of children in need is going up while the number of families willing to take the children into their homes is going down, according the USCCB. In places like Illinois, Massachusetts, California and Washington D.C., the service providers who have a track record of excellence in recruiting and assisting foster families have been shut down.

Acting to promote religious liberty

On their own or using materials available
at www.usccb.org/ReligiousFreedomWeek
and www.usccb.org/freedom, Catholics are asked during the week to learn more about religious liberty from the Church’s perspective, to pray about particular issues and act on what they have learned, whether by finding ways for their parishes to serve their community or even by calling their members of Congress and asking them to promote legislation supporting religious liberty.

One such piece of legislation is the federal Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act (H.R. 1881 / S. 811), which would protect the religious liberty of child welfare service providers, including adoption and foster care agencies. Similar legislation has been introduced and passed in several states.

Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled in favor of a Christian baker in Colorado named Jack Phillips, who declined in conscience to create a custom cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. The decision may have critical implications for the freedom of people of faith to live out their faith in daily life.

Week succeeds Fortnight for Freedom

Religious Freedom Week succeeds the Fortnight for Freedom, celebrated in years past, for a few reasons, according to the USCCB. “Week” is more widely understood than “fortnight,” and many public awareness campaigns take place over the course of a week, such as Catholic Schools Week, National Migration Week and National Marriage Week. A week provides a focused period of time to concentrate one’s attention on the issue of religious freedom, and this particular week centers around the feast days of saints who bore particular witness to religious liberty.

Although the Fortnight for Freedom sought to raise awareness of several religious freedom issues, it was associated in some people’s minds with the HHS contraceptive mandate. “To be sure, the HHS mandate is still a live issue and still being challenged in several courts, but awareness needs to be raised concerning other important religious freedom issues as well, including legal and policy challenges facing our adoption and foster care services, our migration and refugee services and other charitable work of the Church,” a statement from the USCCB said. Over the last few years, the Fortnight for Freedom has also shifted to more of a prayer and education campaign, and from an ad hoc to standing Committee for Religious Liberty within the USCCB, providing an opportune moment to explain how religious freedom encompasses a number of areas. Religious liberty really affects the entire Church, and not just the Catholic Church, but all people of faith who seek to live out their faith in daily life in the public square.

Through prayer, education and public action during Religious Freedom Week, however, the Catholic Church promotes the importance of preserving the essential right of religious freedom for now and the future, for Catholics and for those of all faiths.

Check out the USCCB Action Alert Center at www.votervoice.net/USCCB/home and indianacc.org for legislative updates on this and other important policy issues.

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