If you’re not Catholic, you may have missed the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ call for prayer, fasting, study, and political action in defense of religious freedom. The Fortnight for Freedom (June 21 to July 4) “will emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.”
The bishops understand that our freedom, particularly our religious freedom, is at risk. The Department of Health and Human Services has mandated that every employer — with only the narrowest religious exception — providing health insurance to employees to include contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs free of charge.
Not only Catholic Charities, Ignatius Press and Belmont Abbey College, but Wheaton College, Campus Crusade for Christ and National Right to Life will have to comply regardless of religious objections to contraception, sterilization or abortion.
The Fortnight that ends with our annual celebration of American independence and freedom begins the memorial day of Sir Thomas More (June 22).
Regardless of where you come down on the Protestant/Catholic divide, More (1478-1534) is a great religious freedom hero.
Henry XVIII, the king responsible for the English Reformation, was by no means a Protestant. He had no doctrinal quarrels with the Catholic Church — save one. Henry, who one author describes as “deeply religious,” but “willful and tempestuous,” sought state control over all the institutes of society including the church. Thus he decreed himself “the only supreme head of the Church of England,” which allowed him to take over all church property, grant himself the divorce that the pope refused, and marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn, who was already pregnant.
When Henry made this decree, Thomas More, one of Henry’s most senior officials, quietly resigned. His religious conviction regarding the Pope as head of the church — whether we agree with him or not — were such that he could not in good conscience serve a king who claimed that authority for himself. In leaving office, More issued no statements, called no press conferences, and raised no ruckus — though when invited to Henry and Anne’s wedding, he declined.
Soon after, More was asked directly if he accepted Henry as the “only supreme head of the church in England.” More said he did not. Henry, not a big believer in religious freedom, had him arrested, imprisoned, tried and eventually executed for treason.
Religion, you see, offers a source of meaning and identity independent of the state. Religion sets forth morality and laws that may conflict with those of the state. Religion claims truth and timelessness in the face of the state’s mutability and temporality.
Religion is, in fact, the biggest and most potent rival of any state — medieval kingdom or modern nation. Religion competes for the minds and hearts of citizens and with rare exceptions, governments do their best to suppress and control rivals. The HHS mandate is an example of the state seeking to do just that and it must be stopped for the good of us all.
Having said that, the issue over the HHS mandate has been painted as a Catholic one: the hopelessly out-of-date, women-hating church trying to force its weird beliefs about sex on everyone. So presumably the Fortnight for Freedom is a Catholic thing too.
No so, argues Ruth Institute's Jennifer Roback Morse. “Anyone who values the American tradition of liberty,” she writes, “should be alarmed by this hostile take-over of civil society by the state.”
After all, she argues, the Catholic Church is by far the biggest religious body in the United States. If the government can dominate the Catholic Church and forcing it to comply with a mandate that runs counter to Church doctrine, “they can do what they like with you.” Anytown Community Church is simply no match for the leviathan state.
So join the Fortnight for Freedom. Pray and fast for our country. Educate yourself and your church about the importance of religious freedom. Watch “A Man for All Seasons,” the 1966 Oscar-winning depiction of Sir Thomas More’s heroism. And resolve as the Fourth of July approaches to emulate More’s patriotism, More who, in the moments before he was beheaded, declared, “I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.”
Publication date: June 20, 2012