It’s April, but it’s not too early to gear up for some real spiritual warfare, officially starting June 21, as the USCCB calls for “A Fortnight of Freedom” from June 21 to July 4, the former being the vigil of the feast of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, the latter being of course Independence Day.

Fisher and More were of course beheaded for opposing Henry VIII’s takeover of the Church of England. (Fisher dies nobly here; More here.) Very interesting that the USCCB, led in this instance by Bishop William Lori, Archbishop-Designate of Baltimore, brings Fisher and More to bear on the issue. For a couple years now, since Notre Dame awarded POTUS an honorary doctorate of law (can that be revoked? Please, Fr. Jenkins?), certain Catholics have compared our current situation to that of 16th-century England, allowing for the obvious differences. No one is facing the block or Tyburn just yet, laus Deo, but given that POTUS has failing pretensions to theological competence as pastor-in-chief and given that the whole HHS mandate fiasco seems directed to splitting the Catholic Church, pitting Sr. Carol Sheehan against the bishops, comparisons with Henry VIII, mutatis mutandis, are not inappropriate. I mean, what politician, whether here in the US or China, doesn’t attempt to co-opt the religious? In any event, let us pray, and fight:

The U.S. bishops have issued a call to action to defend religious liberty and urged laity to work to protect the First Freedom of the Bill of Rights. They outlined their position in “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.” The document was developed by the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), approved for publication by the USCCB Administrative Committee March 13, and published in English and Spanish April 12.

The document can be found at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/our-first-most-cherished-liberty.cfm.

“We have been staunch defenders of religious liberty in the past. We have a solemn duty to discharge that duty today,” the bishops said in the document, “… for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad.”

The document lists concerns that prompt the bishops to act now.Among concerns are:

• The Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate forcing all employers, including religious organizations, 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 HHS’s defining which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty.

• Driving Catholic foster care and adoption services out of business. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia and Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities adoption or foster care services out of business by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.

• Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services. Despite years of excellent performance by the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require USCCB to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching. Religious institutions should not be disqualified from a government contract based on religious belief, and they do not lose their religious identity or liberty upon entering such contracts. Recently, a federal court judge in Massachusetts turned religious liberty on its head when he declared that such a disqualification is required by the First Amendment—that the government violates religious liberty by allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a manner consistent with their beliefs on contraception and abortion.

The statement lists other examples such as laws punishing charity to undocumented immigrants; a proposal to restructure Catholic parish corporations to limit the bishop’s role; and a state university’s excluding a religious student group because it limits leadership positions to those who share the group’s religion.

Other topics include the history and deep resonance of Catholic and American visions of religious freedom, the recent tactic of reducing freedom of religion to freedom of worship, the distinction between conscientious objection to a just law, and civil disobedience of an unjust law, the primacy of religious freedom among civil liberties, the need for active vigilance in protecting that freedom, and concern for religious liberty among interfaith and ecumenical groups and across partisan lines.

The bishops decry limiting religious freedom to the sanctuary.

Read the whole thing here.

This is for real; we’re playing for keeps. And the bishops get it.