This weekend marks the beginning of the second Fortnight for Freedom, an ecumenical celebration of freedom established last year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This year’s events begin tonight with an opening Mass in Baltimore and a vigil for freedom Saturday evening in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Jacqueline Halbig of The Catholic Association has been working with the Knights of Columbus organizing a prayer vigil and Saturday night’s rally. She talks a bit about it with National Review Online.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Another Fortnight for Freedom — isn’t this all in the past? The way the news reads, it seems that the bishops wanted to take on the president, but the president won.
JACQUELINE HALBIG: The second Fortnight for Freedom draws attention to the fact that serious threats against religious freedom persist in our nation and around the world. These threats go beyond the president’s coercive Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contraception, sterilization, abortion-pill mandate, which was the catalyst that prompted the first Fortnight. The battle has just begun, really. And as long as these threats continue to exist, the Catholic bishops, among other concerned citizens, will use opportunities like the Fortnight to draw attention to this issue and call Christians to prayer, fasting, and action.
There are legal challenges — and expect to see more come August 1, when the “safe harbor” some religious employers have had for a year expires — by Catholic and other religious organizations over the HHS mandate, which dictates that employers must provide contraception, abortion drugs, and sterilization under the guise of health care. The bishops have consistently asked the White House to protect and restore our basic religious-liberty rights here. Despite window-dressing “accommodations,” this still has not happened. We’re in this for conscience rights, and so we soldier on.
LOPEZ: What is this “Fortnight for Freedom” business anyway?
HALBIG: “Fortnight for Freedom” is a two-week call to prayer and fasting that starts today and goes through July 4. The time frame encompasses our recognition of our country’s independence, which was prompted by a desire for freedom of religion. During those two weeks, the Catholic Church also recognizes two martyrs, St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, who became saints through their willingness to die to preserve the rights of conscience and religious freedom.
The bishops have a website up where you can read much more about the whole effort.
LOPEZ: What are the signature events this year?
HALBIG: This weekend is when it all begins. The “Prayer Vigil for Religious Freedom” will take place at 8:45 p.m. on Saturday, June 22, on the northeast side of the Capitol grounds, near the corner of Constitution Avenue and First Street N.E. The event will be led by Archbishop William Lori of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. It will be preceded by a 7 p.m. Mass said by Archbishop Lori at St. Joseph’s Church on Capitol Hill (corner of Second and C Streets N.E.). The details are here.
Tonight (Friday, June 21) begins the official Fortnight, opened with a Mass in Baltimore at 7 p.m., celebrated by Archbishop Lori. Donald Cardinal Wuerl will offer Mass on July 4 at the end of the Fortnight at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. More about these events can be found on the USCCB’s Fortnight website.
LOPEZ: Archbishop Lori talks about this being a long-term endeavor? How and why?
HALBIG: The threats to religious freedom are many and are growing daily in number and seriousness, not just domestically but internationally. Fighting to preserve this most fundamental freedom will take a sustained and comprehensive effort. This will require education on, and a renewed commitment to, the non-negotiable rights of conscience and religious liberty. There are many concerns besides the HHS Mandate; there are many examples of the ways in which our religious freedoms — which, don’t forget, extend to marriage and adoption — are being eroded.
LOPEZ: Is the religious-liberty issue ultimately an issue of catechesis?
HALBIG: It is definitely about catechesis — better education about, and greater understanding of, religious liberty by all Catholics (and all citizens). But while catechesis/education is pivotal, even more important is the changing of hearts and minds by the work of the Holy Spirit. That is a crucial part of the process.
The average person is not even aware that this foundational freedom is eroding, but those who have heard about it are not yet sure whether it is particularly serious. What will it take? It is clear that just knowing facts will not change people’s hearts or bring about the deeper understanding and action that are necessary. It takes a stirring of the conscience, the heart and soul, by the Holy Spirit. That stirring is the product of prayer and fasting and evangelization. That is part of what the Fortnight hopes to bring about.
LOPEZ: Wouldn’t it be simpler if the Catholic Church just got with the times on these sexual-ethics issues?
HALBIG: Truth does not shift or bend with the times or trends. Truth transcends “the times” and seeks to inspire and fulfill us regardless of the era we live in. This truth about sexual ethics that the Church steadfastly teaches results in authentic love that is healthy, committed, and life-giving.
Women have been sold a bill of ills that insists contraception and abortion are their keys to freedom and equality. But it requires relinquishing what is unique to our femininity — that we are the only ones that can bring life into this world, and that can be a peaceful, loving, motherly influence in the world, whether or not we are biological mothers. Instead we have been told we ought to trade that in to be objectified and used, with no consequence to the man.
I believe with all my heart that the Catholic teaching and vision of sexual ethics honors women. The modern conventional wisdom promises equality and control of your sexuality, but instead women who have subscribed to it have become enslaved to the “new liberation,” which only frees men from the responsibility of a loving commitment. Women are robbed of what their hearts so often desire — loving, committed, responsible men; someone who would honor and cherish them and their beautiful femininity. I would much prefer that to any supposed “liberation.”
LOPEZ: Why contribute to efforts that the media routinely suggest are not in the best interests of women and their freedom?
HALBIG: I love this country and my faith. It seems so obvious to me that if the government can tell my church what its beliefs should be, then we are not truly free to believe anymore. If it can dictate one of our beliefs, then it can encroach on any or all of them.
LOPEZ: To what extent is this effort ecumenical?
HALBIG: Religious freedom is for everyone!
Religious freedom and freedom in general is, rightly, everyone’s concern. Those who are attuned to this reality understand that if freedom can be stripped from one group of people, it can easily be stripped from another. In the religious-freedom rallies that occurred last year in nearly every major city, faith leaders from all faiths stood together against the HHS mandate. In addition they wrote an open letter on the related issue of religious freedom and marriage. The signatories included leaders from Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Lutheran, Mormon, and Pentecostal communities in the United States. Even if other faiths differ from the Catholic Church on points of doctrine or practice, we can all understand that freedom is a concern for persons of every faith.
LOPEZ: Why should I get involved in this Fortnight? How can I be?
HALBIG: If you value your freedom to believe, and to practice your faith accordingly, you should want to support and participate in the Fortnight. In addition, it is so important to take an actual stand, to let your voice be heard. We need support from every corner, so if there are Fortnight events in your area, please attend. And, of course, we invite everyone to pray and fast with us over the next two weeks.