America's Roman Catholic bishops just completed the "Fortnight for Freedom," a two-week period intended to "support a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty." As evangelical and Catholic leaders have spent the past year opposing the Obama administration's so-called contraceptive mandate, the timing, motives, and agenda driving the "Fortnight for Freedom" have prompted widespread commentary. Rather than scrutinizing the Fortnight's agenda, Protestants could examine deeper questions than what took place on the surface.
It's important to consider the Fortnight's placement on the calendar—the significance of the Fortnight's dates, June 21 to July 4—to understand the nature of religious freedom and the relationship between what to some mixes like oil and water: the Christian tradition and American liberty.
It's worth considering whether the church fathers and the founding fathers enjoy a deeper conceptual affinity—precisely around the meaning and foundations of religious freedom—than many people (including perhaps the bishops) have noticed.
A feast of martyrs vs. the Fourth of July
The Fortnight for Freedom began on June 21, marking the vigil of the feasts of Saint John Fisher and Saint Thomas More. Fisher and More were both executed because they refused to endorse Henry VIII's claimed supremacy over the English church. The vast majority of English nobles and bishops endorsed the supremacy, while Fisher and More stood virtually alone. Though urged to use mental reservation to endorse the succession while denying its legitimacy in their hearts, the men were convinced that they could not do so without violating their consciences and endangering their salvation. As More declared, ...1