The USCCB has announced the Fortnight for Freedom: Freedom for Mission, which will be celebrated from June 21-July 4. The bishops ask Catholics to pray for the prudential judgment of our nation’s leaders as they consider the important issues before them. Religious freedom is “our first, most cherished liberty” and the one on which all the others rely.
Our Constitution restrains the actions of a powerful state against the less powerful and limits its authority so we can protect the personal freedom and authority we are guaranteed. Without the ability to exercise the freedom to use reason to seek God’s truth and live it, which is what religious freedom protects, our humanity is demoted and the common good is diminished.
Because people are an indivisible union of mind, body and spirit, and conscience is the “operating system”—, forcing people to act against their conscience is unjust government coercion with consequences far beyond a person or church building. When the state oversteps its boundaries, it interferes in the space we are guaranteed—whether spiritual or material—to safely and confidently live out our obligations to one another. A community can’t reflect people’s moral convictions unless they are free to live them
The American idea reflects the wisdom of privileging the rights and responsibilities of individuals ahead of the state to build a society better than anything the state can devise on its own. That ideal protects the virtue of diversity and respect for one another, both which are undermined by the state acting outside its authority and competence. When the state respects its position it performs its instrumental role in governing the people it serves, protecting the vulnerable and preserving human life and dignity for all. It creates the space to do good, “to fully witness to ‘a civilization of love’ where all can flourish.”
The good our institutions accomplish is inseparable from the convictions that might challenge prevailing norms—that truth is as relevant now as it was in the past and will be in the future. The bishops ask Catholics to make the Fortnight for Freedom an opportunity to learn more about the importance of religious freedom. We should be prepared to defend it and speak with confidence and respect about the issues that let us to live out our mission.