The Bishops & Religious Liberty

Commonweal Magazine Editors: In April, the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” warning against what the bishops consider to be unprecedented threats to religious freedom from various governmental actions. In their statement, the bishops called for a “Fortnight for Freedom” (June 21–July 4), in which Catholics will be asked to study, pray, and take public action in response to the threats described by the bishops. Much of the controversy surrounding the statement concerns the bishops’ rejection of the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act and their subsequent refusal to accept the accommodation proposed by the Obama administration. That compromise still required that contraception coverage be made available to employees of some Catholic institutions, but kept nonexempt institutions from having to provide or pay for it. Insurance companies or other third parties will have to cover the costs. In “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” the bishops raise other, equally important concerns about threats to religious freedom in areas such as immigration law and adoption services run by religious organizations. Commonweal has editorialized on the contraception mandate and other issues of religious liberty, agreeing with the bishops on some points, but also expressing some dissatisfaction with the USCCB’s rhetoric, arguments, and tactics. In an effort to respond more fully both to the bishops’ statement and the challenges facing religious groups and institutions that seek to be full participants in the public square, we have asked a number of distinguished scholars and commentators for their evaluation of the bishops’ statement and initiative. —The Editors