Catholics in the United States should be prepared to engage in civil disobedience if the HHS mandate requiring employers to pay for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs is not rescinded, says a new document from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The USCCB released the one-pager as a bulletin insert to be distributed in Catholic Churches during June, in preparation for the Fortnight for Freedom, a two week period of prayer and fasting for the rescinding of the mandate.
“Some unjust laws impose such injustices on individuals and organizations that disobeying the laws may be justified,” the bishops write. “Every effort must be made to repeal them. When fundamental human goods, such as the right of conscience, are at stake, we may need to witness to the truth by resisting the law and incurring its penalties.”
The insert takes up some of the themes expounded on in a longer document released in April by the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, which also alluded to the possible need for non-violent resistance and compared the situation to that faced by the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.
Like the April document, the insert calls the civil rights movement “an essentially religious movement,” and quotes Martin Luther King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in which King cites St. Augustine’s dictum that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
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“The church does not ask for special treatment, simply the rights of religious freedom for all citizens. Rev. King also explained that the church is neither the master nor the servant of the state, but its conscience, guide, and critic,” the insert reads.
It continues: “For the first time in our history, the federal government will force religious institutions to fund and facilitate coverage of a drug or procedure contrary to their moral teaching, and purport to define which religious institutions are ‘religious enough’ to merit an exemption. This is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may by forced by the government to provide such coverage even when it violates our consciences.”
In addition to urging Catholics to contact legislators, the insert asks people to participate in the Fortnight for Freedom beginning on June 21st and leading up to the July 4th holiday through prayer, fasting, and organizing local events to oppose the mandate.
The two week period encompasses several feasts of saints who, the USCCB website notes, “remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power,” including St. John Fisher, St. Thomas More. St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.
An opening Mass has been scheduled for June 21, the vigil of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More. It will be held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, and presided over by Archbishop William Lori, the newly installed Archbishop of Baltimore.
The July 4th Closing Mass will be offered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, with Archbishop Charles Chaput, a widely reputed champion of the pro-life cause, giving the homily.