Nuns walk in a procession following a special Mass and prayers for the protection of religious liberty in Chicago, USA. CNS photoWASHINGTON – American Catholics must resist unjust laws “as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith,” a committee of the US bishops said in a statement on religious liberty.

The 12-page statement by the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty also calls for “a fortnight for freedom” from June 21, the vigil of the feasts of St John Fisher and St Thomas More, to July 4, US Independence Day.

“This special period of prayer, study, catechesis and public action would emphasise both our Christian and American heritage of liberty,” the committee said. “Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.”

The document was made public on April 12. It comes in the wake of a controversial government health insurance mandate that the committee cited as a “concrete” example of recent threats to religious liberty.

The Department of Health and Human Services had mandated that most health plans must include contraception, sterilisation and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services.

The committee statement says this amounts “to an unjust law”.

The mandate includes a religious exemption, but leaders of Catholic and other faith-based organisations say it is too narrow and they will still be forced to provide coverage they oppose.

Among other examples of “religious liberty under attack” the bishops named:

• Government actions in Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia and the state of Illinois that have “driven local Catholic charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services” because the agencies would not place children with same-sex or unmarried heterosexual couples.

• Changes in federal contracts for human trafficking grants that require Catholic agencies “to refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching”.

• Discrimination against Christian students on college campuses.

“An unjust law cannot be obeyed,” the bishops’ statement said.

“If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them,” it added. “No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it. But if it should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith.” – CNS