Religious freedom allows the Catholic Church — and all religious communities — to live out their faith in public and to serve the good of all.
A major area of concern continues to be the freedom for Catholic institutions — such as schools, hospitals and child welfare service providers — to carry out their missions with integrity.
Religious Freedom Week will be observed this year from June 22-29 with the theme of Solidarity in Freedom. Pope Francis wrote that “Solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity. It means thinking and acting in terms of community” (“Fratelli tutti,” 116).
One example of the need for religious freedom involves Church-run adoption and foster care institutions, targeted for closures in states such as Illinois, Massachusetts and California because they do not place children with same-sex couples. Vulnerable children and adults who want to work with faith-affirming agencies suffer because of these efforts. The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act would prohibit the federal government and any state that receives certain federal funding from discriminating against child welfare service providers because they decline to provide a service that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions. Contact your U.S. senators and representatives for their support of the act.
In recent years, activists have sought to undermine the Church’s mission by forcing Catholic hospitals to perform procedures that destroy human life and undermine human flourishing, such as sterilization, gender reassignment surgery and even abortion. Individuals who work in secular institutions sometimes find that their conscientious objection does not receive respect. A nurse in Vermont was forced to choose between her job and her faith when she was told by her employer that she had to participate in an abortion.
While existing federal laws already protect some conscientious objections in theory, the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services has in the past refused to fully enforce these laws. The Conscience Protection Act would establish a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court. Contact your elected officials in Congress and urge them to support the Conscience Protection Act.
Catholics in other countries face severe restrictions. Clergy, students and media are targeted in Nicaragua for speaking out for human rights. Threats from extremists remain in Iraq. Those are just two of many examples.
We ask Catholics and others to take this opportunity to pray, reflect and act to promote religious freedom, both in the United States and abroad.