Fortnight for Freedom

| June 4, 2013 | 1 Comment


As part of this year’s national Fortnight for Freedom observance, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is sponsoring a Freedom Forum where Catholics can learn more about ongoing threats to religious liberty in the United States and how they can respond effectively to these challenges.

The free event is set for June 22 at St. Peter in Mendota. It begins with Mass at 8 a.m., followed by a slate of nationally recognized speakers until noon. The Fortnight for Freedom runs from June 21 to July 4.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding about what religious freedom is, and there are a lot of myths out there about what the separation of church and state really means,” said Jean Stolpestad, director of the archdiocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Life, which is sponsoring the event in collaboration with the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Religious liberty is a right granted by God and protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, she said. It extends beyond the simple freedom to worship in a church building; rather, it gives Catholics and other people of faith “the freedom to bring our values, our beliefs and our philosophy to bear in the public square.”

Today, however, this right “is seriously under attack,” Stolpestad said.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate, which requires most employers — including religious employers — to provide contraceptive coverage for employees, would force many people of faith to violate their deeply held beliefs, she said.

Also, opponents of Minnesota’s new law redefining marriage have indicated that it falls short in protecting the religious liberty of many Minnesotans who believe marriage is a union between one man and one woman, and courts will have to adjudicate the conflicts that will arise as a result.

Religious liberty concerns have also surfaced on issues related to the provision of immigration and humanitarian services in light of new state laws and federal regulations.

Offering insight

The Freedom Forum features three speakers:

  • Seana Sugrue, associate professor of American studies at Ave Maria University, will speak about religious freedom and the importance of the Catholic Church as a defender of rights and liberties.

The separation of church and state seeks to ensure that government and religion don’t encroach on each other’s territory, Sugrue said in a May 28 interview with The Catholic Spirit. The HHS mandate is an example of government exceeding its authority.

“This is perhaps the most significant direct threat to religious liberty that we’ve seen,” she said.

“Those who value liberty need to understand what a service the Church is in fact doing in taking these issues seriously,” Sugrue said. “It’s important to remember that the Church doesn’t really have political power; it’s the state that has political power. The only power that the Church has is the power to operate upon the conscience of individuals — to speak truth and to help them to see that government is overstepping its proper bounds.”

  • J. Brian Benestad, professor of theology and director of the Catholic studies program at the University of Scranton, will address religious freedom and obstacles to its exercise.

Pope John Paul II, in his 1988 document titled “Christifideles Laici,” on the vocation and mission of the laity, identified one of those obstacles, Benestad said.

The pope said “one serious temptation that Catholics have is to separate their faith from their life,” Benestad said. “What makes it worse is that you have a number of political theorists who really don’t want the Church to discuss controversial issues like euthanasia and abortion, for example, in the public square. They want to confine the practice of faith to the private realm, and they don’t want Catholics trying to apply their faith in the public arena.”

Some Catholic politicians have contributed to the problem by separating their faith life from their public service, he said.

“We have the separation of church and state, but we don’t have the separation of church and society,” Benestad said.

  • Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, will speak about local concerns related to religious liberty and offer attendees ideas for taking action on the issue, Stolpestad said. Staff from the Office of Marriage, Family and Life will provide participants with resources they can use in their parishes.

Strength in unity

Protecting religious freedom isn’t a political issue, Stolpestad stressed. It’s a human right — one that is essential to human dignity and the common good.

She said she is hoping for a large turnout for the Freedom Forum and hopes people of all ages, including young adults, will take advantage of this educational opportunity.

“There is great strength in unity,” she said. “If we work together, we can make a difference.”

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