Religious Freedom Week: Called to the fullness of dignity

Pray, reflect, act

Religious freedom allows the Catholic Church and all religious communities to live out their faith in public and to serve the good of all. Beginning June 22, the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) invites Catholics to pray, reflect, and act to promote religious freedom.


Respect for Sacred Spaces — June 22 

Pray that all people of faith would be free to gather in houses of worship without fear.   

Reflect
The very nature of a sacred space is that it is set apart from other spaces as a place to seek communion with the divine and thus should be treated with respect. In a pluralistic society such as ours, respect for sacred spaces is especially vital for the sake of civil peace, which is part of the common good. In recent years, a wave of vandalism and arson has hit Catholic churches and statues. There have been over 320 attacks so far, and that number steadily continues to grow. Christians are not alone in defending their sacred spaces. The terrorist attacks against Israel and ensuing outbreak of war caused antisemitic incidents in the U.S. to skyrocket, including shocking displays of open hatred, with acts of anti-Muslim hatred committed as well. There is no greater threat to religious liberty than for one’s house of worship to become a place of danger, and the country sadly finds itself in a place where that danger is real. We Catholics can express our solidarity with the whole human family by working to build a culture where all houses of worship are treated with respect. 

Act 
Religious communities express their faith through their sacred art and architecture. Sacred spaces and devotional art all testify to the strength and hope of these diverse communities. How has this legacy affected you? Share an image of your favorite church building or other house of worship, devotional art, or other sacred sign of faith with your friends and on your social media.


Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws — June 23

Pray for all people of faith who live in fear of persecution under unjust blasphemy laws. 

Reflect 
All around the world, people accused of blasphemy and apostasy are suffering for their faith or lack thereof. In 2022, the Pew Research Center found that 79 countries out of 198 they studied have laws banning blasphemy. According to Pew, 90 percent of countries in the Middle East and North Africa have blasphemy laws as well as 34 percent of countries in the Asia/Pacific region, 31 percent of European countries, 34 percent  of Latin American countries, and 38 percent of Sub-Saharan African countries. Penalties for blasphemy vary considerably, ranging from fines to prison sentences to executions. Seven countries have the death penalty for blasphemy — Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mauritania, and Saudi Arabia. In Nigeria, in March 2020, a Sufi Muslim singer, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, was charged with blasphemy and his house burned by a mob because a song he wrote, that others viewed as insulting to the Prophet Muhammad, circulated on social media. Without legal representation, he was convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging by a local Sharia judge — he remains in prison. 

Act 
Under the guidance of the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) provides pastoral and humanitarian assistance to the persecuted Church around the world. For more than 74 years, our donors have reached out to the suffering, the distressed and the poorest of the poor in over 145 countries. Today, ACN continues working to counter the persecution of Catholics. Connect with ACN and support their work today at churchinneed.org


Freedom to Speak the Truth — June 24

Pray that the Holy Spirit would give us the courage to bear witness to the truth of the gospel, even in the face of social and legal pressure. 

Reflect 
All baptized Christians are called to share the joy of the gospel with others. But in numerous settings —schools, the workplace, health care — individuals are being pressured to conform to the orthodoxy of gender ideology. Under the current administration, government agencies are proposing regulations that, in the name of prohibiting harassment, would chill or prohibit speech that upholds the nature of conjugal marriage, the bodily reality of human beings, and even the sanctity of life. We certainly should approach people who disagree with us on these issues with tenderness and compassion, but that does not mean we should be forced to speak untruthfully, and in a pluralistic society, the government should afford ample space for people of different backgrounds and worldviews to be able to work together.  

Act 
Be an example of how people of faith can voice beliefs about love and marriage with clarity and compassion. The Love Means More initiative is an ongoing campaign that takes a deep dive into the meanings of love. It is a versatile resource for Catholic catechists, as well as “seekers” from any religious background, but also welcomes those who profess no religious background at all.  Learn more at lovemeansmore.org


Service to Immigrants — June 25

Pray that the Lord would protect all migrants and refugees, and that all those who work with people on the move would be free to serve. 

Reflect 
As part of their duty to uphold the common good, civil authorities are responsible for ensuring public order, including by maintaining national borders. At the same time, the Church is commanded by Jesus Christ to serve vulnerable populations, including migrants and refugees, and recognize their God-given dignity. The Church has long sought to serve the needs of “people on the move,” from providing for basic needs, to assisting with refugee resettlement, to offering legal services to help newcomers navigate the expectations of their receiving country. Sadly, in recent years, Christian services to migrants have faced vile attacks by both media personalities and political leaders seeking to make a point about current immigration trends. Debates about immigration and borders are simply part of American political life, and Christians should do their part to make those discussions healthy and productive. The attacks on Catholic charitable services, which have led to threats of violence against the faithful and those they serve, have nothing to do with healthy debate. A nation that respects its religious institutions will recognize the Church’s right to carry out her mission to vulnerable people, including migrants and refugees. 

Act 
Catholic social teaching recognizes a country’s right and responsibility to manage its borders in accordance with the common good, and the U.S. bishops have been vocal proponents of immigration reform for many years. However, bills recently put forth in Congress, such as the USCCB-opposed Secure the Border Act (H.R. 2), which targets organizations serving newcomers, underscore both the partisan nature of the immigration debate and the potential for religious groups to be scapegoated for the consequences of public officials failing to achieve just, bipartisan solutions on immigration. Some lawmakers are demanding that H.R. 2 be enacted as a condition for passing bills that fund the federal government.  Take action (www.votervoice.net/jfi/campaigns/110431/respond) to encourage Congress to work toward bipartisan immigration reform that furthers the common good, upholds religious freedom, and respects the God-given dignity of all. 


India — June 26

Pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in India, who face harassment and violent attacks. 

Reflect 
Traditionally, many cultures and religious communities have thrived alongside one another in India which, according to its Constitution, was established as a “socialist, secular, democratic republic” so that all citizens were to be treated equally regardless of religious identity. But since 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have promoted a Hindu nationalist ideology (Hindutva) so that to be Indian is to be Hindu. Consequently, Muslims (about 14 percent of the population), Christians (slightly over 2 percent), and other religious minorities face discrimination and find themselves under attack. A civil society organization reported a four-fold increase in attacks against Christians between 2012 and 2022. In the state of Manipur, the minority Christian population has faced harassment and attacks at the hands of Hindu nationalists. Since May 2023, around 300 churches have been set on fire, and 100 other buildings belonging to Christian groups have been destroyed. Around 50,000 people have been displaced by the hostilities. Hate speech, particularly against Muslims, is on the rise and violence is committed against minorities with impunity as police do little to protect those being persecuted and may actually participate in the attacks. Incitement to violence escalated as the May 2024 elections loomed. In response, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India has called the faithful to prayer and peaceful engagement as citizens, while also demanding that the government uphold the Fundamental and Minority Rights guaranteed by the Constitution. 

Act 
Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) was founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926 as an instrument of love and a sign of hope for those in need scattered throughout the historic but unstable lands of the ancient Eastern churches — the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India, and Eastern Europe. Connect with CNEWA at cnewa.org


Faith at Work — June 27

Pray that business leaders would be free to promote a culture of life in their workplaces. 

Reflect 
The Catholic Church calls the lay faithful to bring their faith to bear on all spheres of life. Whether we are praying, serving those in need, or working at our daily jobs, we are always Catholic. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) was passed with the support of the USCCB. The bishops commended the PWFA’s requirement that employers grant pregnant women reasonable workplace accommodations. However, in its rules implementing the PWFA, the Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires that employers give employees leave for the purposes of obtaining an abortion.  A federal mandate that private entities be complicit in second- and third-trimester abortions is unprecedented, and the EEOC’s stated interpretation of PWFA’s religious exemption appears to render it effectively meaningless.   

Act 
Sign up for action alerts (at www.votervoice.net/usccb/home)  from the USCCB so you can join the Committee’s efforts to encourage Congressional action responding to the EEOC’s PWFA regulations. Meanwhile, religious employers should honor the pro-woman, pro-life intent of the law Congress passed, and grant pregnant employees reasonable accommodations that allow them to have healthy pregnancies. 


Civility — June 28

Pray that God would give us the grace to remember the dignity of all and invite others to do the same. 

Reflect 
As Catholics, we take to heart Jesus’ invitation to follow the example of the Good Samaritan, who challenges us to “become neighbors to all” (no. 80). As a Church and a nation, we are polarized and divided, but as Pope Francis writes in Fratelli Tutti, we can seek “a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good” (no. 154). We can see ourselves as members of one family. We can seek to encounter and to grow. We can identify common values. We can listen to understand. We can seek the truth together. We can jointly come up with creative solutions to the problems that face our world. 

Act 
Interested in learning more about civil dialogue or about how your community can engage in civil dialogue more often? Join USCCB’s Civilize It Campaign to help promote dignity beyond the debate. Visit usccb.org/civilizeit for more information, to take the pledge, or plan an opportunity for civil dialogue in your community. 


Catholic Healthcare — June 29

Pray that governments will respect the consciences of all individuals and institutions that care for the sick and vulnerable. 

Reflect 
For centuries, Christians have carried on the healing ministry of Christ by building institutions dedicated to medicine and accompaniment of the dying. However, Catholic hospitals and medical professionals face numerous challenges to their mission today. For years, activists have sought to undermine the Church’s mission by forcing Catholic hospitals to perform procedures that destroy human life and undermine human dignity, such as sterilization, sex reassignment surgery, and even abortion, and people of faith who work in secular institutions may find themselves coerced into performing abortions. Under President Biden, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would consider it to be discrimination for a health care worker to categorically object to performing gender transition procedures, regardless of whether that objection is a matter of religious belief or clinical judgment. HHS’s implementation of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act includes regulations that would require most health insurance issuers to cover gender transition procedures, so the regulations may make it difficult for religious organizations as employers to find companies who will provide insurance coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and the consciences of hospitals and professionals who seek to carry out the healing ministry of Christ. 

Act 

The period for submitting comments on these proposed regulations has ended, but our advocacy continues.  Sign up to receive alerts (at www.votervoice.net/usccb/register) on new opportunities to let government agencies in Washington know that you support the Church’s right to operate her institutions in accordance with her faith in Jesus Christ. 

Thanks to the USCCB for these prayers, reflections, and calls to action.