At the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption in his June 21st homily opening the Fortnight for Religious Freedom, Most Reverend William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore, seemed to urge Catholics to embrace some version of martyrdom to defend religious freedom enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Analogizing the Obama Administration to Henry VIII of England, Archbishop Lori held up the examples of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, both of whom embraced martyrdom by decapitation rather than betray their faith:
[I]n 1535, Thomas More and John Fisher were beheaded because they refused to comply with the Act of Supremacy, a law which made King Henry VIII Head of the Church …[they] laid down their lives rather than violate their consciences or their sacred principles. Their courageous witness of faith continues to stir the minds and hearts of people yearning for authentic freedom, and specifically, for religious freedom . . . . On August 1st, less than six weeks from now, the Health and Human Services mandate will go into effect. This will force conscientious private employers to violate their consciences by funding and facilitating through their employee health insurance plans reproductive “services” that are morally objectionable….Friends, we must never allow the government, --any government, at any time, of any party-- to impose such a constrictive definition on our beloved Church or any church! . . . . This is why the Church has engaged the Administration so earnestly, this is why we are working for legislative protection from the Congress, this is why, thankfully, so many have filed lawsuits in various parts of the country, and this is why there is a Fortnight for Freedom—so that the Church would be free of that government interference which St. John Fisher warned against in the British Parliament in the 16th century.
This past Sunday, celebrating the birthday of St. John the Baptist, Catholic priests throughout the country echoed the Archbishop’s call to action in their homilies, encouraging all Catholics to participate in the two week period of prayer and action to protect the
First Freedom of the Bill of Rights. One priest explained the dilemma succinctly:
[T]oday, in this country, our precious right to freedom of religion is under attack by members of the very government sworn to defend it. This is a decisive moment in America. That is why the Catholic Bishops of the United States are committed to focusing “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” on the defense of religious liberty.
Speaking from the pulpit, another member of the Catholic clergy in one southern California church compared the unnamed leader of “the current Administration” first with King Herod in the context of the beheading of John the Baptist for dedication to his faith and second with King Henry VIII in the context of the beheading of Sir Thomas More due to his faithfulness to the Catholic Church. The U.S. bishops have also launched a text messaging campaign to encourage people to participate in the national campaign for religious freedom.
These calls to prayer are backed up with plenty of real world action in the impending “legal Armageddon” against the HHS mandate filed by 43 religious entities (and largely ignored by the mainstream media). Chicago’s Bishop Cardinal George has threatened that the Church may have to close all its doors--church, school, hospital and more--rather than comply with the HHS mandate.
That would put untold numbers of people out of work, on the streets and barred from Catholic works of charity (soup kitchens, hospitals, etc)--in an election year, no less. It is no small irony that Catholic bishops are calling for a religious battle in defense against a president who is leading a column of big government secular crusaders marching against religious freedom.