Religious freedom is the freedom to believe and act according to one’s faith. It is a fundamental principle and constitutionally protected right in the United States. Yet it is more than just the ability to attend religious services or pray in private. It is the ability to practice one’s faith openly, without undue interference from the government or any others. Without religious freedom, it is very difficult to live one’s faith and engage in the works prescribed by it. Furthermore, in the absence of religious freedom, all people suffer, since they are deprived of the contributions to education, health care, and social services made by people of faith.
There are a number of threats to the religious freedom of the Church and the religious freedom of individuals. Employers have been required to provide health insurance that offers immoral services, medical professionals have been stigmatized for their inability to perform abortions and assisted suicides, college students have been silenced on campuses, and educators have been forced to abide by gender ideology in their classrooms. Religious people have been asked to engage in behaviors that go against the tenets of their faith or suffer the consequences. For more information on current cases, see Alliance Defending Freedom and The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Most notably, in August 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), acting under the authority given to them by the Affordable Care Act, announced regulations to define what had to be covered by health insurance policies under the term “preventive services.” These regulations required all employers and health insurance policies to cover contraceptives, including drugs that cause early abortions, and sterilizations. There was an extremely narrow exemption for religious employers, but no exemption for religious individuals or insurance companies with objections. This has led to the lawsuit Zubik v. Burwell (also known as the “HHS Mandate case” or the “Little Sisters of the Poor case”). For more information, see Zubik v. Burwell on the Trending Now tab.
THE CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE
Since the Second Catholic Council, the Church has recognized the right to religious freedom. Dignitatis Humanae explicitly states:
The human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs… whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits…This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed. Thus it is to become a civil right.
A large portion of the Catholic faith involves the ability to go out into the world and witness to others. This is why it is vital for Catholics to have the freedom to live their faith. Catholicism is not meant to be relegated to the private lives of individuals, but is meant to influence society at large. Yet religious freedom is especially important in a society that is increasingly hostile to Catholic values. Catholics cannot be coerced into behaving in ways that are contrary to their faith or into accepting an ideology that is at odds with their beliefs.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Review Church teaching on the freedom to live the faith
-Statement from the USCCB: Our First, Most Cherished Liberty
-Vatican II declaration on religious freedom: Dignitatis Humanae
-Pope Francis on religious freedom
Read our archived blog posts
-Posts tagged “religious liberty”
Be aware of the current threats to religious freedom
-Overview from the USCCB
-Contact public officials to support conscience protection bills
Participate in a Fortnight for Freedom
-Each year, parishes around the country arrange special events to highlight the importance of religious freedom. The Fortnight for Freedom is from June 21, the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, to July 4, Independence Day.
-Hosting a prayer vigil or movie night and discussion are some effective ways to celebrate. A Man For All Seasons, For Greater Glory, and Becket are all movies that highlight the importance of religious freedom.
We must pray fervently to uphold our religious freedom. Here is a also a prayer from the USCCB.
O God Our Creator,
from your provident hand we have received
our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness. You have called us as your people
and given us the right and the duty to
worship you, the only true God, and your Son,
Through the power and working of your
Holy Spirit, you call us to live out our faith in
the midst of the world, bringing the light
and the saving truth of the Gospel to every
corner of society.
We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious
liberty. Give us the strength of mind and
heart to readily defend our freedoms when
they are threatened; give us courage in
making our voices heard on behalf of the
rights of your Church and the freedom of
conscience of all people of faith.
Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and
daughters gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our
nation, so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our
grandchildren, and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation,
under God, indivisible, with liberty and
justice for all.”
We ask this through Christ our Lord.