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‘Fortnight for Freedom’: A clarion call for the protection of religious liberty

aymondTo Clergy, Religious and Laity of the Archdiocese of New Orleans:

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
    The bishops of the United States are calling all Catholics to observe a Fortnight for Freedom from June 21 to July 4. This time of prayer begins on the vigil of the Feasts of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, who were courageous in living their faith and suffered martyrdom under the reign of King Henry VIII, and concludes on July 4th, Independence Day, a day to give thanks to God for the many gifts we have been given here in the United States. In particular, Catholics are asked to become more aware of the issue of religious liberty and to bring this intention to prayer. It is also a fitting time for us to pray as we approach the national, state and local elections in November. 

    All Catholics are called to be faithful citizens and to be influenced by the values of Jesus in forming our political views and in casting our votes. Through prayer and study we must continually grow to be faithful disciples of Jesus and faithful citizens. 
    Some argue that we as a Church should not be involved in politics. As a Church, we must neither endorse nor denounce a candidate, but we are called to look at government issues and the platform of political candidates to see how these reflect the values of Jesus and the teachings of the Church through our 2,000-year history. In the Gospel, it is quite evident that Jesus himself spoke about political issues of his day. We must do the same in our day so that a clear voice is heard, which seeks to advocate for justice on behalf of everyone.
    As bishops, we have taken a strong stand on Religious Liberty. We should be able to follow our moral beliefs and our conscience without interference from government or any force. The Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate would require employers, including Catholic hospitals and universities, to provide coverage for services involving sterilizations, abortion-causing drugs and artificial birth control. There are other issues that involve government interference in our religious beliefs. In some dioceses, Catholic Charities has ceased involvement in adoptions because the government forces us to act in opposition to Church teaching. The United States Bishops lost a contract with the federal government to fight human trafficking because we refused to offer abortions to victims of human trafficking. Christian student groups on some secular campuses cannot meet on campus for standing up for their faith and beliefs. Examples are numerous. We believe that the religious liberty promised to us by the Free Exercise Clause of our Constitution is a foundational freedom that should be protected in our time and in the future.
    Likewise, as we prepare for the elections in November, we must be part of the conversation on the many issues facing our society. We must be civil and respectful in our dialogue. We must study the issues and pray for God’s guidance as we enter the voting booth. We must be guided by an informed conscience. I encourage you to review the document from the United States Bishops, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility.” A summary of this document is available through your parish and in the June 23 Clarion Herald. It summarizes the teachings of our Church that should guide us as we enter into the political realm. It builds on Pope Benedict XVI’s words, “Catholics are called to bring truth to political life and to practice Christ’s commandment to love one another.” (Deus Caritas Est #29)
    Some people look at these complex issues and say, “I won’t vote!” I beg you not to forfeit your vote.  In many elections, no one candidate may embody all our Catholic values. We must vote for the person who will be able to bring about the greatest good for our society and help us live the values of Jesus. Please take seriously your political responsibility to vote. To encourage voting, our parishes will provide opportunities for voter registration information the weekend of September 8-9.
    Please pray about and study these important issues of our day. These are important issues that do affect our lives and our faith. As the followers of Jesus, we must speak out in a respectful and prophetic way while not apologizing for our beliefs.
    May this time of prayer from June 21-July 4 be a time of God’s blessings upon the United States and help us to dialogue in a way that will bring us closer to fostering the kingdom of God on earth.
    God bless you and those you hold in your heart.  God bless America and keep us true to our heritage.
    Wishing you God’s blessings, and the assurance of my prayers, I am

Sincerely in Christ,
Most Rev. Gregory M. Aymond
Archbishop of New Orleans