Home Diocesan News Catholics must stand up for religious liberty, bishop tells Holy Hour participants
Catholics must stand up for religious liberty, bishop tells Holy Hour participants Print E-mail
Written by Pete Sheehan   
Friday, 14 July 2017 13:45

The fundamental right of religious freedom is under attack and Catholics must act to defend it, Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., told those attending a Holy Hour at St. Columba Cathedral, Youngstown, July 4.

Bishop Murry spoke to about 100 people at the Holy Hour, held on Independence Day to conclude the diocese’s observance of the annual “Fortnight for Freedom,” June 21-July 4. The fortnight was aimed at highlighting the importance of religious freedom and raising awareness of possible threats to it.

The Holy Hour included Eucharistic Adoration, benediction, and the bishop’s homily. Afterwards, St. Columba Parish hosted an informal barbecue and people set up chairs in front of the cathedral to watch the fireworks from downtown Youngstown after dark.

The annual two-week period coincides with feast days of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of religious persecution by political power, including St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church in Rome. It concludes on July 4, when America celebrates Independence Day.

“The purpose of these two weeks,” as well as the Holy Hour that evening, Bishop Murry said, is to serve as a reminder that religious liberty is not only a political but also a religious reality and that, while “we live in a country where we are guaranteed religious freedom,” such freedom both locally and around the world is under siege.

He noted that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution includes a “no establishment clause,” which prohibits the setting up of a national Church – “unlike England” – and a specific protection for “the free exercise” of religion.

“Many politicians would argue that in our country we are guaranteed ‘the freedom of worship,’ and that that is all we need,” Bishop Murry said. Freedom of worship allows believers to privately practice their faith within their houses of worship – such as choosing “which prayers to pray and which hymns to sing” – but not in the public square.

“Freedom of religion, however, assumes freedom of worship,” but also encompasses the right “to actively contribute publicly to the formation of the common good without” restrictions or penalty.

The importance of religious liberty in the United States was cited by Pope Francis during his 2015 visit to the United States, when he described religious freedom as “one of America’s most precious possessions,” Bishop Murry said.

Still, religious liberty in this country faces “serious challenges,” such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regulations requiring employers, including many religious employers, to provide contraception, sterilization and abortifacients in their employee health care plans as part of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

Not only do the regulations impose a contraceptive mandate, which violates the conscience rights of many employers, but the regulations also attempt “to define which religious institutions are ‘religious enough’ to merit protection of their religious liberty.”

Other threats to religious freedom are seen in the controversy in the New York City schools, about whether religious bodies can rent space in public school buildings on weekends for religious services, Bishop Murry noted.

Moreover, pressure on Catholic adoption agencies to place children with same-sex couples or opposite sex couples who are not married, as seen in cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Washington, and the State of Illinois, Bishop Murry continued, has forced Catholic agencies to withdraw from adoption and foster care services.

In addition, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ immigration and refugee services office’s successful program to assist victims of human trafficking ended when the federal government changed its grant specifications to require that contraceptives and abortion services be supplied or referred for, “in violation of Church teaching.”

Of course, Bishop Murry said, religious liberty faces even more serious challenges around the world, such as actions by ISIS, “including the beheading of 21 Coptic Egyptian Christians and the sexual enslavement of young women and girls” by Boko Haram.

Amid these challenges, the bishop said, “as Catholics and as Americans, we must be bold, clear, and insistent in witnessing for religious freedom because it is the foundation on which all civil societies are based.”

“Without the bright light of religious freedom, our future can only be dim,” Bishop Murry stressed, because the freedom of religion is “the foundation of human rights, the foundation of justice, and the foundation of the common good.”


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