The Diocese of Buffalo closed out the third annual Fortnight for Freedom on July 1, on the heels of a victory for religious freedom. The Supreme Court ruled that craft store chain Hobby Lobby will not have to provide contraception and abortion-inducing drugs to its employees.
The Fortnight for Freedom began in 2012 as a response to the Health and Human Services mandate requiring all businesses, including religious institutions, to provide contraception and abortifacients. Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City-based family-owned company fought the mandate, claiming it interfered with the religious freedom of the owners and mission of the company. The company claims to honor the Lord by operating its business in a manner consistent with Biblical principles. The 5-4 Supreme Court decision stated that the Obama administration failed to show that its coercive mandate was the least restrictive means of advancing its claimed interests.
Bishop Edward M. Grosz celebrated the closing Mass to the Fortnight at the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Buffalo.
Bishop Grosz criticized the media for not giving the full picture of the issues the Catholic Church has with the HHS mandate. The Church's complaint goes beyond being forced to provide contraception through health insurance.
"It's contraception and all the drugs that lead to abortion. That's what we're talking about," he said. "The media will not communicate that. We have to communicate that."
This year's theme, "Freedom to Serve" comes from the idea put forth that a Church serves the population outside of its faith and outside of its house of worship. The HHS mandate excuses religious employers from providing contraceptives, but does not excuse Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations, which also carry out the mission of the Church. This would force these institutions to go against their beliefs or shut down. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined the definition of religion as only what takes place in a place of worship.
"Which is absolute nonsense," Bishop Grosz said.
Quoting Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" ("Joy of the Gospel"), Bishop Grosz said, that "'a healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual's conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques.'"
"No government on the face of the earth, including our own United States government, can determine strictly a definition of what constitutes religion, which in the present case is religion that is only relegated to those who believe and are in a particular place of worship.
"In this restricted definition of religion, an exemption follows for health care that is contraception and abortion, is relegated only to a church building, but not to the numerous schools or hospitals or health care facilities or charity institutions or educational institutions that are operated by the Catholic Church or any other religion."
Bishop Grosz went on to say that we must continue to follow the leadership of William Lori, who chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"Now is the time to pray. Now is the time to witness. Now is the time to educate," he said. "Now is the time to act and react that this nation founded with the vision of faith and belief in God may truly be and always be one nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all. May God truly bless America."
The USCCB has asked diocesan pro-life directors to organize and lead the Fortnights in each diocese.
"I think we had a really great response. We had many different activities going on throughout the diocese, " said Cheryl Calire, director of Pro-Life Activities for the Diocese of Buffalo, following the closing Mass. "I think we've had a lot of support and prayer throughout the whole thing, in regards to freedom of religion and the freedom to serve others."
The Fortnight for Freedom is held from June 21 to July 4, coinciding with the liturgical calendar celebration of a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of political oppression - St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter and St. Paul.