By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT – “This fortnight for freedom is a great hymn of prayer for our country and for religious freedom,” Bishop Martin Amos said during a diocesan holy hour June 21 at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
The evening prayer service, which coincided with the national opening observance of Fortnight for Freedom, included songs, intercessions and prayer.
“This is neither for, nor against, a particular political party or candidate,” the bishop said. It is about an issue: The First Amendment of our Constitution and our religious freedom.
The bishop noted that religious liberty is not only about the ability to attend Mass on Sunday or say the rosary at home. It also is about Catholics’ ability and right to not compromise their faith, “a faith that calls us to good works in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights and social services according to our conscience.”
He said society has become more secular and there has been a gradual effort to silence and take away “our cherished freedom.”
Examples the bishop offered from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate for contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. Most employers would be required to provide coverage.
• Immigration laws. One in Alabama makes it illegal for a Catholic priest to baptize, hear confessions and celebrate the anointing of the sick for an undocumented immigrant.
• Catholic Charities in some states have been driven out of the business of providing adoption and foster care services because the charities refuse to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried, opposite-sex couples who cohabit.
• “And finally a very serious one,” the bishop said, is re-defining what constitutes a religious institution to say the majority of its members must be of that faith and those who they serve must be of that faith. “Many of our Catholic charities, hospitals and some schools serve a large number of people who are not of our faith.”
The bishop said this is not just a Catholic issue – it’s about religious liberty for all. Other religious groups are concerned as well.
He noted that in the past, legislation and policies have contained “conscience clauses” when something might have caused a moral dilemma. “If we are not free in our conscience and in our practice of religion, all other freedoms are fragile.” The Catholic Church is not asking for special treatment, he said.
“We are Catholics and we are Americans. We are proud to be both and we are thankful that we live in a country where we can be both. We do pray and we must work so that we continue to have freedom of religion — not just a freedom to go to church, but a freedom also to minister in the world, be of service to others — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — and that it be done according to our consciences.
“May God bless us as Catholics and may God bless us as Americans,” he said.
Following the holy hour, Ed Schloemer of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf said he attended the event because he believes the country is at a crossroads with the coming presidential election. He believes the options are taking a step off a cliff regarding the future of religious freedom in this country or taking a step back and taking another path to continue the greatness the country has known.
“My hope is that our prayers will be heard and hearts changed,” he said.