On the evening of June 22, the Knights of Columbus will hold a prayer vigil at the U.S. Capitol Building as part of the second Fortnight for Freedom, highlighting the importance of religious liberty.
“Of all of our unalienable rights, the founders of our country chose to put religious liberty first in our Bill of Rights,” Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus said in a statement June 11.
“As we gather, we will pray that those God-given rights be respected and protected by our government.”
The timing of the vigil highlights recent threats to religious freedom, including the federal contraception mandate, same-sex "marriage," and concerns over immigration and humanitarian services. The fortnight as a whole runs from June 21 to July 4.
The prayer vigil will be held on the feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, martyrs who died in defense of religious liberty and freedom of conscience under Henry VIII of England. The vigil will begin following a 7 p.m. Mass held at St. Joseph's parish on Capitol Hill.
The vigil will include readings, recitation of the rosary and Night Prayer sung by the friars of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. bishops' conference called for a second Fortnight for Freedom earlier this year, in order to raise awareness and support for religious liberty. The initial fortnight was held in 2012 and included a series of Masses and prayer rallies in support of religious freedom, with the members of several other denominations or religions joining in, or holding events of their own.
“The need for prayer, education, and action in defense of religious liberty has never been greater,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore in a May 13 statement. “The Fortnight for Freedom exists to meet that need.”
Among the most immediate threats to religious freedom is a federal health care mandate that will go into effect August 1 for many objecting religious employers. The mandate requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.
A narrow religious exemption will not include most religious non-profits, including Catholic hospitals, schools and charities.
Many are also concerned about the impending decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the definition of marriage. In March, the court heard arguments about the constitutionality of California's Prop 8, which recognizes marriage as existing solely between a man and a woman, and the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as the union of one man with one woman.
Decisions in both cases are expected in late June, perhaps during the duration of the Fortnight for Freedom.
Participants in the Knights' prayer vigil are asked to refrain from the use of signs or banners, in order to foster a spirit of prayer and peaceful demonstration.