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The Fortnight is packed with liturgical and civic significance. It starts on the vigil of the feast of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, martyrs who remained faithful to their conscience despite persecution by political power. Archbishop William Lori, chair of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, will open the Fortnight with Mass in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the first diocese established in the United States.
The Fortnight culminates on Independence Day. At noon on July 4, churches across the country – both Catholic and non-Catholic -- will ring their bells in a witness of solidarity. Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, will preside at a nationally-televised Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Archbishop Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell, will preach the homily. These key locations in our early American experience emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.
Throughout the two weeks, dioceses, parishes, Catholic groups, families, and individuals will raise "a great hymn of prayer" for our country. Well over half a million prayer cards have already been ordered in English and Spanish, with the text available online in Tagalog and Vietnamese as well. The English prayer card features our national patroness, Mary Immaculate; the Spanish card has an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of all the Americas and of the unborn. Other prayer resources may be found at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/resources-on-conscience-protection.cfm#prayers.
In addition to our prayers, it is time to act. The most pressing need is to fight the unjust HHS rule that coerces employers to pay for sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs and devices that can induce early abortions. It forces Catholic organizations which play a vital role in providing health care and social services either to violate their conscience or severely curtail their vital work -- harming religious freedom and access to health care, alike.
Virtually no one is exempt. There is no room for conscientious objection. Neither individuals nor the vast majority of employers can opt out of the mandated coverage without severe penalties – prohibitive fees that would force many out of business. The law tramples on our basic rights of conscience and religious liberty – all while treating pregnancy as a disease, and fertility as a pathological condition.
As a Catholic woman in her childbearing years who works for a religious employer, I personally find it offensive on many fronts. Thank God the bishops are fighting not only on behalf of religious employers, but also on behalf of those in the private and public sector whose conscience rights are violated by this mandate, too.
If you have already written to HHS in opposition to the mandate, thank you! We now have one final chance to make our voice heard on the oppressive rule. Visit www.usccb.org/conscience and click on the action alert in the right margin.
Don't feel confident in how best to express yourself? No worries. The action alert offers pre-written email text to HHS for you to personalize if you like. It is followed by a message to your representative and senators urging their support for the sensible Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179/S. 1467).
Please act now. While we will continue to urge support for conscience rights in Congress, the deadline for the last wave public comments to HHS is coming up quickly: Tuesday, June 19th. Together, our prayers, church bell-ringing, and e-mail messages will raise "a clear and united voice," as our prayer for religious liberty asks:
Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters [so that] …
this great land will always be "one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Deirdre A. McQuade is Assistant Director for Policy & Communications at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on the bishops' work protecting conscience rights, go to www.usccb.org/conscience. Fortnight for Freedom information is posted at www.Fortnight4Freedom.com.
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