This summer, Americans of every faith and of none have been subjected to the propaganda machine of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and their “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. By all measures, the fortnight fell flat. There was no religious persecution to decry; Catholics were too busy living their lives and planning their summer vacations to show up en masse for the bishops’ rallies; and the Affordable Care Act, the threat to religious liberty (according to the bishops), was upheld by the Supreme Court.
What we know, and what the bishops missed, is that religious freedom deserves more than a fortnight — and it’s about protecting more than the interests of a small group of men whose demands don’t reflect the needs and desires of the people they claim to represent.
Throughout history, good people — religious and secular — have been harried, hunted and harmed because of their religion or in the name of someone else’s. Irish Catholics lost the right to worship, and many their lives and livelihoods, to the English crown merely because they were Catholic. European Jews, for no reason other than their faith, were persecuted for centuries, and the Shoah remains an appalling testament to the capacity of human cruelty and religious repression. But religious persecution isn’t only history. If you adhere to the Baha’i faith in Iran today, you live in fear, monitored by a government that has a history of arresting, torturing and killing members of your faith. In Indonesia, the refusal to confess a belief in God will land you, badly beaten, in prison—in 2012.
Today’s American Catholic bishops would have us think they are the latest victims of religious persecution. Their claims denigrate the suffering of those who know the true meaning of that term. A few powerful conservative religious leaders, not joined by the majority of their faith or even of all their fellow bishops, have opened their coffers to sue the government to allow them to force others to live by their rules and to deny them what everyone else is guaranteed by our society. This isn’t about religious liberty. It’s a sham. And a dangerous one.
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