Let’s be a ‘beacon of hope’ for religious liberty

Categories: Editorial

July 4, 2014, edition
By Joe Towalski

The 4th of July is a tradition­al time to celebrate our free­doms as U.S. citizens. Several of those freedoms are enshrined in the First Amendment, which guarantees Americans the ability to worship and practice their faith without undue interference from the government.

Threats to that freedom, howev­er, surface from time to time — the most visible of late being the federal Health and Human Services man­date requiring most employers to provide insurance coverage for con­traceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that two family-owned com­panies — Hobby Lobby and Cones­toga Woods — could be exempted from the requirement because it conflicted with their religious beliefs offers some consolation that basic freedoms like religious liberty will continue to be protected.

But several concerns regarding the mandate remain: Challenges to its requirements from nonprofit organi­zations — including Catholic orga­nizations — continue to wind their way through the court system.

And, there are concerns that those upset by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling will push for changes to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that strengthened religious free­dom guarantees and that enjoyed bi­partisan support when it was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

World-wide concern

In addition to these threats on the home front, Americans also shouldn’t forget the more severe threats to religious freedom that many others — Christians and non-Christians alike — continue to face around the world in places like the Middle East, China and Sudan, where professing one’s faith carries the threat of outright persecution, even death.

Just before this year’s Fortnight for Freedom, which concluded July 4, Archbishop William Lori of Balti­more, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Lib­erty, spoke with Catholic News Ser­vice about this year’s theme: “Free­dom to Serve.”

The Fortnight is not only a time to celebrate the freedom to worship, but also the freedom to put our faith into action beyond the walls of our church buildings.

“This is a time for individuals to come to understand better what re­ligious freedom is, what the church teaches about it and how that af­fects the way we exercise good citi­zenship and an appropriate love for our homeland,” Archbishop Lori said. “We believe that the flame of freedom ought to be kept burning brightly within this country as a beacon of hope for religiously perse­cuted people around the world.”

This month, in which we celebrate the birth of our nation and the prin­ciples on which it is based, is a good time to take his words to heart and give thanks for the freedoms we en­joy.

Beyond the picnics and fireworks this year, let’s all make a person­al commitment to protect and strengthen laws that allow us to be that “beacon of hope” for people of faith here in the United States and in every corner of the globe.