As an immigrant and now a naturalized citizen, I have always admired the pride Americans have for their nation and heritage, particularly as we approach our Independence Day. As the years go by I have adopted the pride and respect they feel for their flag and the freedoms we enjoy and are guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence.
As a journalist, I have learned the importance of freedom of speech and I have seen how it is boldly defended in this country, because it allows journalists to expose corruption schemes and more, without fearing for their lives. The same freedom is trampled in many countries such as Mexico and Honduras, where journalists are frequently murdered for exposing corruption.
Religious liberty is another fundamental value we all enjoy in this country. Many take this right for granted because we do not see the aggressive religious persecutions others experience in more than 133 countries like Iraq, where Christians are murdered because of their religious beliefs. Only about 27 percent of all the countries in the world fully respect religious freedom, according to studies quoted by Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces,NM, member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.
In a more subtle way but just as concerning, we are also experiencing attacks to our religious freedom in this country. The most widespread example is the Department of Health and Human Services mandate forcing all employers, including religious organizations such as schools, hospitals and universities, to provide and pay for coverage of employees’ contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs even when they have moral objections to them. Another concern is the HHS's definition of which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty. This is not an issue about “women’s rights” as some have labeled it. Those who choose to use artificial means of contraception have had access to it and continue having it.
Religious freedom cannot be limited to the sanctuary. Religious freedom is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of society. Our religious organizations must have the freedom to do the good works our faith calls them to do without having to compromise that very same faith.
As Catholics and citizens we must embrace the call to action issued by our bishops and recognize the importance of defending this essential right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, and to express the importance of protecting our religious freedom. For more information on how you can defend religious freedom, send a text message with the word “freedom” to 377377 or go to fortnight4freedom.org