The purpose of the Fortnight for Freedom is “to educate people about the nature of religious freedom (and) to point out intrusions against religious liberty,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore in a video posted online by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In addition, the fortnight aims to show “how people exercising their religious freedom enriches society in terms of charity, education and really building what we would call a civilization of love,” he said.
Archbishop Lori, who is the chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, explained that the Fortnight for Freedom will run from June 21 to July 4. The two-week initiative will highlight threats to religious liberty in various areas, such as immigration, health care, marriage and humanitarian services.
Among these threats to religious freedom is a mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services to require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions.
This mandate – which is being challenged in court by some 200 plaintiffs across the nation – will go into effect for many objecting religious employers on August 1, shortly after the conclusion of the fortnight.
This is the second year that the bishops have sponsored the Fortnight for Freedom, as concerns over religious liberty continue to mount. In addition to the contraception mandate, worries have been expressed by religious individuals and organizations who object to recognizing a redefinition of marriage, health care providers that do not want to participate in abortion and similar procedures, and religious groups that provide services to all immigrants in need, regardless of their legal status.
This year’s national fortnight events will include an opening Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, Md., at 7 p.m. on June 21. The closing Mass will be celebrated at noon on July 4 in Washington D.C.’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The national activities will be supported by diocesan-level initiatives throughout the U.S., including rosaries and holy hours for religious freedom. Dozens of dioceses have announced plans to hold prayer events during the fortnight, including holy hours and rosaries for religious freedom.
Some dioceses – including St. Louis and South Bend – will hold Masses celebrating the opening and closing of the Fortnight for Freedom.
In Austin, Texas, church bells throughout the diocese will ring at noon on Independence Day to mark the end of the fortnight.
Other dioceses and parishes are encouraging private devotion, fasting and contributions to spiritual bouquets during the two-week period.
The prayer that makes up the core of the Fortnight for Freedom will be supplemented by efforts to educate people across the country on the topic of religious liberty.
Priests in many areas are being asked to dedicate a Sunday homily to the topic, and informational pamphlets have been prepared for distribution.
In addition, some dioceses – including Baltimore and La Crosse, Wis., – are hosting talks or panel discussions on religious liberty. Others are sponsoring public gatherings, such as the Archdiocese of Denver, which will host a public, ecumenical rally on the steps of the state Capitol building on June 22.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has suggested other ways for local parishes and faith communities to participate in the fortnight. Ideas include daily rosaries, study groups, Eucharistic processions, days of community service and movie nights with a religious liberty theme. (CNA)