Fortnight for Freedom: Holding onto religious liberty

June 17, 2014

HOUSTON — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has once again dedicated the 14 days from June 21 to July 4 as the Fortnight for Freedom — a time of prayer and taking action for the preservation of religious freedom.

The bishops first commemorated this two-week period (a “fortnight” in Old English) in 2012. At the time, debate raged between the Catholic Church and the Obama Administration over a Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate in the Affordable Healthcare Act which requires all private employers — including the Catholic Church — to provide insurance coverage of sterilization, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs and devices. 

The administration took the position that those insured would simply not use those services if those procedures were against their religious beliefs. 

However, the Church contends it should not be forced to pay for insurance coverage for procedures that go against its core beliefs and teachings. It also believes its employees shouldn’t be forced to pay for these procedures as part of their insurance premiums — or be penalized with higher premiums for not including coverage. 

It also doesn’t believe Catholic healthcare workers should be subjected to performing medical procedures against their faith. 

The Church opened a dialogue with administration officials to try to come to a solution. During the 2013 Fortnight, the HHS issued its final rule on the matter, which included the coverage requirement. 

More than 90 lawsuits were filed, representing more than 300 plaintiffs — including many companies that oppose the requirement — according to the private Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

In March the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a challenge from Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, two companies whose lawsuits were consolidated. 

News reports commented that justices seemed divided on the issue. The high court’s ruling is expected at the end of June — coincident to this year’s Fortnight For Freedom.

The challenge received much coverage in the secular press, much of which reduced the issue to one more political squabble in the land of political squabbles. There’s much, much more at stake. 

“This [challenge] is for everyone’s religious freedom,” said Sister Veronica Schueler, FSE, co-director of the St. Frances Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance in Houston, a Catholic Charities agency. 

“Right now the focus is on the issues of contraception and aborted patients and whether or not private employers or employers are forced to pay for that coverage,” she said. “But it could just as easily be something else that might apply to another faith at some point.”

“The problem is that if the government has the ability to regulate in that way, or feels it can do that without impunity, it doesn’t mean that it will stop at this.

“It’s something that everyone should be concerned about. Not just people of the Catholic faith. It’s important for people of all faiths to keep abreast of what’s going on in terms of the legal challenges to the HHS mandate, to other infringements of religious freedoms,” she said.

“Be aware, read the paper, listen to the media. Just keep up with what’s going on with that,” she added. “Depending on which way things go, it’s going to impact all of us again, regardless of what our faith is.”

In 2012, Catholic Charities posted a YouTube video of Sister Schueler, who is also Cabrini Center’s staff attorney. “If we don’t have the freedom to worship as we see fit, if we don’t have the freedom to practice our religion, we lose something of our humanity,” she said in the video, which can be seen at

June 21 — the beginning of the Fortnight — is significant as marks the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, both of whom were persecuted politically and martyred for their beliefs. 

July 4, of course, is U.S. Independence Day, the day upon which the country’s founders stood together to protect religious freedom above all else.