-- Catholic News Agency
Fortnight Resource Combines Religious Liberty, Outreach To Disabled
WASHINGTON D.C., June 27 (CNA) .- Two national Catholic groups have released a list of suggested activities to defend religious liberty and reach out charitably to those with disabilities.
"We hope you take advantage of these resources and share them with others," said the National Catholic Bioethics Center in a June 18 statement announcing the initiative.
The bioethics center has joined with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability - a group that works to help those with disabilities participate fully in the Church and in society - to create a list of 14 actions aimed at supporting religious freedom and reaching out to the disabled.
The list of daily activities is available on printable fliers and business cards online. It contains several religious activities, including fasting, attending a holy hour and praying a rosary for religious liberty.
It also includes advocacy efforts, such as voicing concerns over religious liberty to one's Congressional representatives.
In addition, it incorporates outreach to disabled individuals in its religious liberty efforts.
"Make a donation to support disabled veterans who have defended our liberty," the list suggests.
It also recommends encouraging "people with disabilities and their family members to attend local events," adding that one should also "offer assistance to event planners to provide needed accommodations."
The list of activities is part of the currently-underway Fortnight for Freedom, a 14-day period of prayer, education and advocacy in support of religious liberty.
The initiative, which runs from June 21 to July 4, was announced by the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty in response to growing threats to religious freedom both at home and abroad.
Chief among these threats is a mandate that will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
While the mandate includes a religious exemption, it applies only to nonprofit groups that exist primarily to inculcate religious values and that employ and serve primarily members of their own faith. Therefore, most religious organizations - including schools, hospitals and charitable agencies - would not qualify for the exemption.
Despite widespread protest and lawsuits filed by more than 50 plaintiffs across the country, the Obama administration has refused to broaden the exemption.
On June 18, the National Catholic Bioethics Center submitted a comment to the Department of Health and Human Services criticizing the mandate and arguing that it "constitutes a violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."
The bioethics center called for the regulation to be completely rescinded but said that at the very least, "the legal obligation of government to protect religious freedom requires that there be a robust, nondiscretionary exemption" for any individual or group that objects to participating in the mandate's requirements.
The National Catholic Partnership on Disability also criticized the mandate in a statement considering the regulation's effect on the neediest members of society, including those who are disabled.
The group observed that "if the Church is no longer allowed to exercise Her ministries because the attacks on religious liberty do not allow it, millions of persons of regardless of their religious affiliation will be negatively impacted."
It pointed to the nearly 3 million students who are served by Catholic schools from the elementary to the college level, including nearly 60,000 students "educated in schools for persons with disabilities," many of whom are not Catholic.
In addition, it noted that tens of millions of Americans receive treatment from Catholic hospitals and care from Catholic Charities each year, regardless of their religious beliefs.
"Who will serve these millions of persons if the Church is no longer allowed to exercise Her ministries?" the organization asked.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center also encouraged participation in the activities being planned at the parish and diocesan levels in order to "demonstrate solidarity" with the national Fortnight for Freedom initiative.
"The threat to religious freedom is real, and our voices, actions, and prayers are urgently needed," the group explained.
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