“[Religious] freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.” — Pope Francis
From the Pilgrims and Puritans, the first Europeans that came to this country, to the native people who fished, hunted and harvested the land for thousands of generations, to our Founding Fathers, religious freedom has been at the pinnacle of our existence.
The right to choose a religion (or no religion) without interference by the government has been guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution since our early years as a nation.
James Madison, one of our Founding Fathers, a Christian and our fourth president, believed all people had the right to choose his or her religion. He shared: “The religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every … man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an inalienable right.” Those words and similar are what wars have been fought over and brave soldiers have died for.
Over time, we have taken for granted this precious liberty. We have become brainwashed by a culture that assumes these liberties will always be protected without having to do too much. Our free society has evolved to the point where praying in public may be ridiculed, expressing our religious values and strongly held beliefs may lead to repercussions, even being censored by social media, and voicing our concerns can be construed as intolerance — the most heinous crime of all.
Have we allowed our nation to relegate our exercise of religious freedom to be only behind the walls of our churches and other places of worship? Or as long as we keep our values, beliefs and commandants from the public debate, will we be tolerated?
Not sure this is a real concern? Ask the Little Sisters of the Poor who battled for years not to pay for abortions and contraception as part of their health care and were only relieved by a presidential order. Ask the owners of the Masterpiece Cake Shop who refused to use their talents to decorate a cake for a “wedding” ceremony that is against their religious convictions on marriage and are awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on their fate. Or ask the religious adoption agencies in Washington D.C., Massachusetts, and Illinois that refused to place children with two persons of the same sex and were forced to close their doors.
The week of June 22 to 29 has been chosen to pray for our religious liberties. Starting on the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fischer, the U.S. bishops have asked us to remember our precious possession. For a week, we are encouraged to pray and act in support of religious liberty at home and abroad.
“Religious freedom allows the space for people of faith to serve others in God’s love in ministries like education, adoption and foster care, health care, and migration and refugee services,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, and chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Religious Liberty.
“We encourage people of faith to reflect on the importance of religious freedom so that we might have the space to carry out our mission of service and mercy, and we invite everyone to pray for our brothers and sisters who face intense persecution in other parts of the world,” he said.
The Diocese of St Cloud will offer a bilingual holy hour on Monday, June 25, at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Mary, to pray for our precious possession. Please join Bishop Kettler for this time of prayer and reflection.
To offer a daily prayer during Religious Freedom Week, go to www.usccb.org/freedom. Or sign up for daily prayers by texting FREEDOM to 377377 to defend your right to live by your faith.
Chris Codden is director of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Diocese of St. Cloud. Contact her at email@example.com.