The Bishops of the United States have chosen the theme “Solidarity in Freedom” as the focus of the 2021 Religious Freedom Week.
This year’s theme is inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli tutti, On Fraternity and Social Friendship. “Solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity,” the Pope writes. “It means thinking and acting in terms of community.”
Conceived in 2012 as a response to government encroachments on freedom of religion, the event was originally branded as the “Fortnight for Freedom,” running from June 21 – the eve of the feast of Sts John Fisher and Thomas More – to the Fourth of July, America’s Independence Day. Keeping the connection with Fisher and More, the celebration was scaled back to a single week, now beginning on their feast and concluding on the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.
In a media note announcing this year’s observance, the US Bishops’ Conference (USCCB) says, “Religious freedom allows the Church, and all religious communities, to live out their faith in public and to serve the good of all.”
Throughout the week, Catholics in the United States are asked to “pray, reflect, and act” on issues of religious liberty, including the rights of Catholic agencies to provide adoption and foster care services, and conscience rights for healthcare workers, and freedom of speech for those holding minority opinions. The Bishops also note the wave of attacks on Catholic churches and statues, and the importance of Catholic social services during the pandemic.
One day is dedicated especially to the so-called “Equality Act,” designed to provide anti-discrimination protections for persons with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria in areas such as employment, housing, and public services. “But at the core of the Equality Act is the codification of the new ideology of ‘gender’ in federal law, dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct,” the Bishops say. Maintaining that “the Equality Act discriminates against people of faith, and by including a potential abortion mandate, threatens unborn life.” Their advice to the faithful is blunt: “Tell your elected officials to oppose it!”
Two days are aimed at “raising awareness and showing solidarity” toward those who are persecuted for their religious beliefs. On June 26, the faithful are asked to pray for Catholics in Nicaragua, who are being persecuted by the government of Daniel Ortega and its supporters. Two days later, the focus will turn to “Pope Francis’ solidarity with beleaguered Christians in Iraq,” who still often face harassment, intimidation and extortion as the nation rebuilds. “The Holy Father’s presence” in Iraq during an Apostolic Visit at the beginning of March, “was a much-needed affirmation of his love for this beleaguered people, and a call for interfaith harmony,” the Bishops say. They quote Pope Francis, saying, “We must work to ensure that the Christian presence in these lands continue to be what it has always been: a sign of peace, process, development and reconciliation between peoples.”
The USCCB’s announcement of this year’s Religious Liberty Week concludes with the affirmation, “Through prayer, education, and public action during Religious Freedom Week, the USCCB hopes to promote the essential right of religious freedom for Catholics and for those of all faiths.”