WASHINGTON — The U.S. bishops have urged Catholics and "all people of faith" across the nation to observe March 30 as a day of prayer and fasting for religious freedom and conscience protection.
The bishops announced the daylong observance in a statement titled "United for Religious Freedom" that was approved March 14 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Administrative Committee.
They asked Catholics and others to join them in "prayer and penance for our leaders and for the complete protection of our first freedom — religious liberty — which is not only protected in the laws and customs of our great nation, but rooted in the teachings of our great tradition."
The bishops said that among current threats to religious liberty is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that forces employers, including religious ones, to provide coverage of contraception/sterilization in their health plans.
Prayer resources have been posted on the USCCB website, www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/resources-on-conscience-protection.cfm.
Also, "Prayer for Religious Liberty" prayer cards are available as a downloadable PDF file. The cards are available in English and Spanish, and feature three different images: Mary as the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the U.S.; Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas and the unborn; and St. Thomas More, the patron saint of the legal profession who was martyred for standing up for his religious beliefs.
In a letter about the March 30 day of prayer addressed to Catholics in their state, Pennsylvania's bishops said the observance was planned in response "to the assault by the federal government on constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty." They, too, cited the federal contraceptive mandate, saying it "punished the church for its firmly held beliefs and consistent teaching."
Meanwhile, the Pro-Life Action League, based in Chicago, and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, based in Michigan, have organized a Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom for March 23.
An announcement said the rally was to take place at noon (local time) outside federal buildings, congressional offices and historic sites. Religious leaders and other public figures were scheduled to be among the speakers at the various sites. The website http://standupforreligiousfreedom.com included general information about the rally and locations across the country.
The event, described as "a peaceful, family-friendly, nonpartisan, ecumenical event," has its theme "Stand Up for Religious Freedom -- Stop the HHS Mandate!"