The Catholic Defense League calls all Catholics to observe “Religious Freedom Week.” The goal of this U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops initiative is to strengthen Catholics’ resolve to defend and ensure religious freedom in America. The 7 days of prayer, education, and action start today, June 22, and ends June 29.
Our Founding Fathers’ religious beliefs were not just privately held. They shaped their political thought and efforts. They believed the morality and order of religion showed the way to govern our nation.
Religious freedom was considered essential if we were to enjoy any other freedom. So they made religious liberty our first, and most cherished freedom, in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Today religion is often seen as an enemy of secular virtues of choice, tolerance, and diversity. There is no freedom to deny blessing immoral or destructive choices. Yet the Supreme Court has ruled many times that freedom of religion is the most precious inalienable right next to life itself.
Religious freedom is not about worship. It’s about living our Faith and our Catholic identity in the public square. We are all called to join the public debate about the issues determining the future of America.
The Catholic Defense League also invites priests to take part by wearing clerical dress — certainly the Roman collar if not the cassock — as often as possible during this week.
In 1982 St John Paul II looked for “opportune initiatives” to promote the wearing of religious dress. He saw the external sign of clerical dress as part of the public witness required of all priests. This distinction from the secular world represents the primacy of spiritual values. It calls people to God in a secular world having little sense of the sacred. People see, and are inspired by, an affirmation of freedom to express these values in the public square.
In 2012 Pope Benedict XVI called for “explicit encouragement” in the daily use of clerical and religious dress by priests visiting Rome. He saw this as a reminder of the “duty of exemplarity” showing the extent to which Vatican offices are respected. In the same way, wearing the Roman collar or cassock during Religious Freedom Week draws attention to the Faith and its expression in daily life. It fosters respect for how religious freedom makes this possible.
Laypeople are called to be salt of the earth and light of the world. In responding they protect religious freedom by its exercise. A priest in clerical dress is a quiet reminder to the laity to answer the call.