Cardinal to host televised town hall meeting during Fortnight for Freedom

BRAINTREE -- The Archdiocese of Boston will participate in the Fortnight for Freedom with events from June 21 to July 4, to rally support for the protection of religious freedom in the United States, including a live "town hall meeting" on CatholicTV for national broadcast.

Throughout the two week period called for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the archdiocese will focus prayers, homilies, intentions and events on the theme of religious freedom. These events are intended to voice opposition to the decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to require most Catholic organizations and employers to provide health plan coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs or face stiff fines. Since it was announced last year, the U.S. bishops have strongly advocated for an expansion of the measure's exceptionally narrow religious exemption.

"The Health and Human Services secretary has chosen to define a religious organization that would qualify for an exemption as one that just serves people of its own faith and employs people of its own faith. That violates so much of not only Catholic contributions to the common good, but also many other faiths whose religious missions involve them serving all those in need without asking what religion they are," said the archdiocese's Secretary for Catholic Media Scot Landry.

"In many ways this is one of the boldest attempts to transcend the separation of church and state, which was founded so that the government would not dictate to religion how religious people get to not only practice their faith, but live their faith. That is not just in the sanctuaries and in the homes, but it is in the public square serving the common good," he said.

"If we do not begin to stand up for religious liberty now, in particular because of this HHS mandate, many smaller Catholic organizations and larger Catholic organizations would be forced to choose between violating their conscience and paying crippling fines," Landry said.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley will host a live interactive "town hall meeting" with a discussion panel on CatholicTV, and WQOM radio 1060AM on June 25 at 8:00 p.m.

"Because of the size of the Archdiocese of Boston, and the logistics of trying to get, ideally, tens of thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics to participate in a town meeting of this sort, we thought that it was best to utilize one of the crown jewels within the archdiocesan ministries, which is CatholicTV," Landry said.

Landry said the use of television and new media in this way will allow greater participation and interaction even for those who cannot be at the town hall meeting.

"We can receive questions via Facebook, via Twitter, and via email during the broadcast that can be shared by the moderator to Cardinal Seán and the panel," Landry said.

The cardinal is asking all Catholics in the archdiocese to participate in and promote the town hall meeting.

A letter from Msgr. Robert P. Deeley encouraged participation in the Fortnight for Freedom throughout the archdiocese by reciting the Prayer for Religious Liberty, adding announcements about the Fortnight for Freedom to parish bulletins, making the USCCB's "Our First, Most Cherished Liberty" available archdiocese wide, and creating events on a local level.

The letter also encourages priests throughout the archdiocese to focus their homilies on the importance of religious liberty in the lives of Catholic Americans.

"One of the most important things ... is to create awareness that the bishops in this country believe religious liberty is under assault and needs to be defended and protected," Landry said.

"Secondly, to get people to pray, and then to help folks connect with resources to educate themselves on this, so that if they were willing they could take action by contacting political leaders and others who could influence and help protect religious liberty in this country going forward," he said.

Angela Franks, who teaches at the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization, plans to appear as a panelist on the town hall meeting program. She said she is eager to defend the faith at the town hall meeting that will be broadcast nationally.

"It is important that the message be sent to congress and to the president that this is not an isolated case of a few people protesting, but that all Catholics all across the country recognize that this is a grave threat to the fundamental freedom of religious liberty," she said.

She said it is important to present a unified voice between communities of Catholics in the United States throughout a network of local groups to dispel misconceptions.

"The mainstream media has tried to imply that the bishops do not have broad support, that this is a war against women, and that women are not supporting the Church and her position on this. So, it is very important for local Catholics to demonstrate that they do stand with the Church," Franks said.