7/6 11:37 p.m.
Updated 7/7 11:30 a.m.
By Karen Mahoney
Kenosha News Correspondent
Around the nation, Catholics mobilized in a campaign to pray, fast and organize in support of freedom of conscience and religious liberty and set aside the two weeks before July 4 for a “Fortnight for Freedom” initiative.
This initiative followed the United States Catholic bishops’ exhortation to call on Catholics to speak out against the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.
This came in addition to numerous lawsuits launched by 46 plaintiffs from dioceses, universities and hospitals against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ order that that requires all employers — including religious institutions — to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs through their health plans.
According to Catholic bishops, this mandate is an unprecedented assault upon the Catholic Church’s conscience rights and religious freedom, blatantly usurping the First Amendment.
Milwaukee Archdiocese Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hying said in a video that this is the first time the government has attempted to impose on a religious institution a legal obligation that violates its own conscience.
“The Catholic bishops have rightfully spoken out against this infraction of the Constitution and we have asked the government to rescind this unjust mandate,” he said. “This is not a fight of our own choosing, but we are simply standing up and asking the government to respect the Constitution and respect our religious freedom.”
Locally, Catholic priests are educating parishioners about the effects of the contraceptive mandate, as well as offering special Masses and prayer services.
“We have encouraged our parishioners to pray a Rosary each of the 14 days, and to attend Masses offered at various sites in the Archdiocese by Archbishop (Jerome) Listecki and Bishop Hying,” said the Rev. Dwight Campbell, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Therese parishes, before the initiative began. “I hope people will respond to this government’s unprecedented assault on our religious freedom and right to follow our conscience.”
Mount Carmel parishioner Colana Hutchinson blames much of the current crisis on a lack of proper catechesis of Catholics around the country over the last 40 years.
“Because of this, we are facing a crisis of huge magnitude and the evils of the HHS mandate is a wakeup call to our nation,” she said. “As Catholics, we can no longer be silent. We must defend the teachings of the Catholic Church, which as Scripture says is the ‘pillar and foundation of truth.’ (1Timothy 3:15) It is only through following these teachings that we will have authenticity, liberty, adherence to truth and love of God. There may be great persecution, but it is also an opportunity for all Catholics to become stronger in the Faith. There has always been a war on religion and especially against Catholics. We must not forget that we have Jesus’ promise that He would be with His Church all days until the end of time (Matthew 28:20) and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18).”
According to the Rev. Ben Reese, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Therese parishes, the Fortnight for Freedom was a reminder that America was founded on the principle of religious freedom, which means that the government cannot interfere with the practice of religion in our daily lives.
“There are some who are arguing that religious freedom should be reduced to freedom of worship and that our rights should be stopped at the church door,” he said.
St. James parishioner Teresa Hill agreed, and said she believes the Obama administration is very hostile to faith. She prayed a rosary each day in support for the Fortnight of Freedom efforts.
“It is actually very scary how hostile the administration is,” she said. “The government should accommodate religious beliefs. This government does not do this and is most definitely, against what the Catholic Church teaches. It is as if the government is desensitized. If you are around negative stimulus often enough, you start to think that it is OK. It is never OK. There is a war on religion going on. We live in a free country but religious freedom is at risk.”
Not only has this HHS mandate unified Catholics, but also many denominations around the country.
“Governor Mike Huckabee, a Protestant, said recently, ‘We are all Catholics now,’” said Reese. “Many Jews have also spoken on our behalf. Having just come from Ireland for the International Eucharistic Congress, I can testify that the struggle for religious freedom was a long bloody battle there after the reign of Henry VIII. As Americans, we have a supreme duty to fight for our religious liberty in a peaceful way at the ballot box.”