Flaccid ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ fizzles for fathers

The “Fortnight for Freedom” was a flop.

This was supposed to be a game-changer — the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ big display of political might. But instead it exposed the bishops as inept campaigners and as generals without an army.

I thought they’d be better at this sort of thing. They had some formidable assets to work with. For weeks ahead of time, Fortnight events were publicized and promoted in every diocese and every parish across the country. And they had some serious money to work with thanks to deep-pocketed (anonymous) donors. They even got a big boost of support from their allies in the evangelical religious right.

But still, it flopped. Big time.

This two-week extravaganza was supposed to redefine the political conversation, but instead it went mostly unnoticed and unattended. It was supposed to show massive grassroots support for the bishops’ contention that allowing women to purchase comprehensive health insurance constitutes an intolerable threat to the religious liberty of employers who wish to prohibit that. But instead it showed, definitively, that there is no grassroots support for that strange argument.

The bishops declared themselves the grand marshals of what was to be a glorious parade, but no one showed up to march behind them and only a meager handful turned out to line the route as spectators.

It was pathetic, really. A bunch of nuns on a shoestring-budget bus tour drew more enthusiasm and more support for their polar-opposite message. For all the millions spent and all the weeks of elaborate, top-down fanfare, the Fortnight for Freedom came and went almost without notice.

“Oh, right, the bishops’ big rally, when is that again? Oh, it happened already? Oh.”

Yawn.

All that time and money invested and almost nothing to show for it.

Part of what we learned here, I think, is that if you’ve got a top-down, hierarchical mentality that regards listening to anyone else as beneath you, as an affront to your righteous authority, then you’re probably not well-suited to rallying grassroots support. When that arrogant mentality shapes your outlook, it seems, you’re probably not even capable of recognizing that you’ve utterly lost all grassroots support.

The bishops did their best to put a happy face on their embarrassing fortnight of failure. “Thousands rally in Washington,” one press release said. And that was true — “thousands” plural because two is a plural number. The largest Fortnight event drew about 4,000 — or, in other words, it was a bit smaller than the crowd at a Bowling Green Hot Rods game on Fireworks Night. (Yes, the Rays’ single-A farm team may outdraw the bishops despite a much-smaller PR budget, yet as far as I know the Hot Rods are not making any claims that this gives them the right to dictate national policy to the president.)

By the end of the fortnight, the affiliated Republican effort “Conscience Clause” had also collected 6,000 signatures for a petition in support of the bishops — or nearly half the number of signatures collected so far in the “Save Pan Am” campaign to get ABC to revive that failed show.

The Fortnight for Freedom was a failure. I suppose, though, that it did succeed in at least one way: providing a handle for plenty of insightful commentary on the bishops’ demands for religious privilege and their increasingly partisan political activism. A sampling of some of that commentary below the jump.

Jessica Coblentz: “Fortnight for Freedom: Whose Religious Liberty?

In the reaction against Fortnight for Freedom, some are responding to the bishops on their own terms. If the campaign is about religious liberty, they ask, then whose liberty is at stake? The bishops present the Catholic exercise of religious liberty as the ability to reject the use of contraception, or at least the financing of insurance plans that cover contraceptive services. The irony, to those on the other side, is that a campaign meant to promote religious liberty actually denies the religious freedom of many Catholic women, who rely on their personal religious convictions to determine their stance on contraception and the mandate. Studies show that as many as 98 percent of sexually experienced American Catholic women over the age of 18 have used contraception. A recent PRRI/RNS poll reports that a majority of American Catholics do not see the contraception mandate as a threat to religious freedom, indicating that many hold a broader understanding of religious liberty than the bishops maintain. The debate surrounding the mandate, then, is not only about contraception and religious liberty. It is also about who gets to define religious liberty’s very meaning.

… Critics of the bishops’ current battle can call on this Catholic history of religious liberty and individual freedom. In their view, women’s choices are an issue of religious liberty — not merely a threat to it. Still, who defines religious liberty remains a matter of authority — and a highly gendered one at that. When the USCCB conveys that the rejection of contraception is the only religiously-motivated choice that warrants the protection of religious liberty among Catholics, they assert the message that only church leaders have the authority to determine what counts as religious behavior. This strips other Catholics of the legitimate authority to negotiate their tradition when determining their own religiously-motivated actions. What is more, so long as the all-male Catholic clergy solely possess the authority to identify what does and does not constitute a free, religiously-motivated choice worthy of legal protection, women have no official authority in Catholic religious liberty conversations whatsoever. As it stands, the religious decisions and actions of all Catholics other than clergy — be they for or against contraception and contraceptive coverage — are seemingly insignificant in “Catholic” concerns about religious liberty.

… The bishops, or anyone for that matter, need not theologically condone the contraceptive decisions of Catholic women in order to recognize them as exercises of free, religious choice. Yet the current rhetoric of the USCCB’s “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign does not. … If the bishops continue to exclude so many American Catholics from their representation of religious liberty — notably, the majority of Catholic women — the USCCB fails in its own stated aim to protect the religious liberty of all.

Katherine Stewart: “How Corrupt Catholics and Evangelicals Abuse Religious Freedom

In the writings and speeches of Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders in recent months, “religious freedom” has come to mean something close to its opposite. It now stands for “religious privilege.” It is a coded way for them to state their demand that religious institutions should be allowed special powers that exempt them from the laws of the land.

… This is a war of conquest, designed to expand the power of religious institutions at the expense of the rest of society and the state. It is about carving out an even larger share of the special privileges and exemptions that are already made available only to organized religious institutions.

Such privileges are already substantial. Religions already receive hefty subsidies – by some estimates, as much as $71bn a year – through broad tax exemptions, deductions, and faith-based government programs. A “ministerial exemption” allows them to hire and fire people directly involved in religious activity without regard to anti-discrimination laws.

But they want more. And they are willing to turn the meaning of the word “persecution” on its head to get it.

Sally Rasmussen: “The Bishops on Religious Freedom: ‘We Get More Than You’

The Catholic bishops have been talking a lot recently about the First Amendment. They’ve made the remarkable claim that their tradition is a source of First Amendment freedoms, but their interpretation of such freedom is that it should shield them from prosecution for collaborating in the sexual abuse of children, at the same time that they are doing their best to deny freedom of religion, speech, and assembly to American nuns. Nor do they believe in freedom of conscience for the Catholic Church which is the people of God – a Church that has thoughtfully concluded that contraception is morally acceptable.

Mark Silk: “Religious Freedom, Becket Style

I can’t help suspecting that the bishops’ rage against the contraception mandate is actually displaced anger at losing their de facto power to decide the fate of sexually abusive priests.

The real lesson of the conviction of Msgr. William Lynn in Philadelphia last month and the impending trial of Bishop Robert Finn in Kansas City is that if church authorities don’t behave like secular executives when confronted with a subordinate suspected of abuse, then they too will be criminally prosecuted. Archbishop Becket would have considered that an assault on his religious freedom. No one in America can do so anymore, Fortnight or no Fortnight.

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

    They do build great cathedrals, though.

  • Jay in Oregon

    I had to jump in before reading to say: Best. Headline. Ever.

  • walden

    wait, the fortnight is over?
    How long is a fortnight anyhow?

  • Seraph4377

    Two weeks.  “Fourteen Nights” = Fortnight.

  • Albanaeon

    Wow.  In one way I am not surprised by this.  The Bishops position was sooo outrageous that I figured that it would not have widespread support.  But this was a remarkable fail.  And very welcome too.

  • reynard61

    “How long is a fortnight anyhow?”

    Two weeks.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    $71 billion a year through subsidies. And they still pass the freakin’ collection plate? (>_<)

    One would almost suspect collection plates as a cynical ploy to create 'investment' between the giver and the church, by taking advantage of the fact that humans tend to not want to ignore sunk costs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tony-Prost/100002434484052 Tony Prost

    They seem to forget that we have free will, and that we are free to sin, if we want. 

  • MaryKaye

    I think this is a big win for religious freedom.

    The Catholic hierarchy has money and and organizational muscle, and in the past has had some substantial political power.  But this fizzle strongly suggests that money can’t buy support for a sufficiently unpopular position, and that their political power has eroded as other groups within the Church reclaim *their* power (yay nuns!)  And having all of this demonstrated in such a public way will reduce the hierarchy’s power to intimidate and browbeat. Many of the threats they have been using turn out to be hollow.  Those they are threatening will know that now.

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    It turns out that a secluded ivory tower is out of touch with the grass roots. 

    Heck, I’m not that familiar with the Vatican; there might be a LITERAL ivory tower involved.

  • walden

    perhaps fourteen nights was too hard to sustain…..should have gone for a “long weekend of liberty”.  Or “morning of misogyny”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    I actually think that a lot of people would agree with their position, but don’t care enough to actually parade around in public next to a bunch of crooks and bullies.

    If it was a parish service, Catholics might have felt religiously obligated to show up. But this holy war against the HHS is pure partisan politics and not everyone is going to want to spend their time for non-religious functions.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    The thing I’d like the people who oppose the contraception coverage requirement on the grounds of “religious freedom” to explain is precisely WHOSE religious freedom they feel is being violated.

    If a Catholic hospital is required to provide said insurance for its employees, whose religious freedom is being violated?  Not the employees, who are still free to use it or not as they choose.  The HR director?  Then the relevant information would be the HR director’s beliefs, not the affiliation of the hospital. 

    The hospital?  Unless the Catholic bishops are claiming the hospital is a person Citizens-United-style, the hospital doesn’t have the right to freely practice its religion — nor indeed does it practice religion or have religious beliefs at all.  Hospitals don’t believe it’s wrong to use contraception.  They don’t believe anything at all.  They’re hospitals.  They’re not sentient beings. 

    The US bishop’s freedom to tell other people who may not even share their beliefs what to do?  The freedom to control other people isn’t part of “religious freedom.”  I’m guessing that’s what it comes down to, but I doubt they’d actually admit it so bluntly.

  • Duskrider2004

    That’s a good point, actually. Thanks for sharing it, because seeing some evidence that “money can’t buy support for a sufficiently unpopular opinion” gives me a bit of hope for the coming election.

  • Mira

    Is Melinda Gates anyone else’s hero right now? 

    I mean, “be a smart woman who also marries really, really rich” is fine but not exactly role model material, but “use the opportunities and resources you are blessed with to take a stand for others who are being treated as objects, not people, and then put your money where your mouth is to try to make a difference” most definitely is. 

  • http://twitter.com/jclor jclor

    Catholic curmudgeons can’t captivate credulous cohorts.

  • http://twitter.com/jclor jclor

    Mealy-mouthed monks miscarry muster for misbegotten morality.

  • http://twitter.com/jclor jclor

    Pugnacious proselytes pooh-pooh preposterous pontiffs.

    (Sorry—I was having fun.  I’ll stop now.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    Mystery Man Mugs Mimes With Meat!  Millions Make Merry!

  • http://profiles.google.com/anoncollie Anon Collie

    The thing is, as the mandatory video homily from St. Louis Archbishop Carlson played a few weeks ago in all parishes in that diocese, they do have a minor, *minor* point about the whole contraception thing. A lot of diocese and larger Catholic orgs are self-insured, which for them, means that they would be supporting through the mandates what they believe to be immoral.

    And I’d even be willing to consider that an important point in this discussion if it was brought to the fore with logical reasoning, class and an openness for discussion, because even the Church does not employ 100% Catholics in their schools, hopitals, etc.

    Oh, what’s that? Carlson’s homily was recorded, edited and broadcasted to the parishes by “ConservativeTV. com?” And the homily wasn’t a homily; it was a rebroadcast of his speech in front of the Missouri Capital in Jefferson City, MO, complete with shots of a wildly cheering audience?

    Oh. Oh, wow.

    There’s a word I’m looking for here. Starts with a “Prop” and ends with a “aganda”.
    It’s on the tip of my tongue…

  • Richard Hershberger

    Wait!  There’s a petition to save Pan Am?  Why?

  • Tricksterson

    I’m pretty sure ivory would make a lousy building material.  At least for anything of significant size

  • Richard Hershberger

    But on a more serious note, the Catholic church hierarchy has never reconciled itself to not having secular authority, with canonical courts meeting out worldly punishment and the state backing them up.  This attitude is a very bad fit with the American tradition of multiple faiths, or the modern European attitude of indifference.  So the church plays this little game, where it pretends to have authority over its members, and the members play along by pretending to respect that authority.  But the pretense is so thin that the church has to be careful to only order the laity to do what the laity was going to do anyway.  This is illustrated every time St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday in Lent.  Any diocese with a significant Irish-American (or even pseudo Irish for the Day-American) membership will duly issue a dispensation freeing the members from Lenten abstinence that day.  Some years ago the Archbishop of Baltimore tried to hold out against this, until it was made perfectly clear that the church would lose too much face when it was openly ignored. 

    What happened with this Fortnight affair is that the hierarchy forgot that they can’t actually order the laity around.  Marching orders were issued and ignored:  terribly embarrassing, how they forgot themselves.

  • PJ Evans

    I’m pretty sure ivory would make a lousy building material

    I suppose they could color the concrete before they pour it. Or, after it’s finished setting, they could use iron oxide to stain it a nice ivory color. Or they could cover it with warm-white stucco….

  • Ursula L

    I’m pretty sure ivory would make a lousy building material.  At least for anything of significant size 

    Actually, I’m pretty sure that, during the stone age, mammoth bones and ivory were used as a building material.  

    http://www.elephant.se/mammoth_bone_houses.php?open=Man%20and%20elephants

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    A lot of diocese and larger Catholic orgs are self-insured, which for
    them, means that they would be supporting through the mandates what they
    believe to be immoral.

    Please note that the diocese, the churches, etc. were exempt from this regulation from the start (just as they are exempt from the anti-discrimination laws). It was, at the very beginning, about the schools, hospitals, and other peripheral organizations which have large numbers of non-Catholic employees. And then they wanted to broaden it even further to any purely secular company owned or run by a Catholic, and then even further to any organization that had any Catholic *employees*. (Seriously – I heard the argument that since insurance is a pool, if even one single Catholic employee (anywhere) is contributing to the insurance pool, then it was a violation of their religious rights to have that pool pay for contraception.)

  • BC

    I knew they were planning the Fortnight for Freedom, but never knew when it started.  I thought they were supposed to engage in some civil disobedience and get arrested in order to highlight their concerns, but I guess that didn’t happen either.  Guess the role for the arrested part was the laity and when none showed up . . .  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    I read this site, and also the Catholic sites, getting very different viewpoints. At times I am put in mind of a chess board, both the dark and white squares, pieces are vital or there is no game.
    Interesting, veerry innteressting….  I love you Lucy, and gud nacht!

  • Ursula L

    I suppose they could color the concrete before they pour it. Or, after it’s finished setting, they could use iron oxide to stain it a nice ivory color. Or they could cover it with warm-white stucco…. 

    The designers of the Taj Mahal had it right.  Polished white marble.  It will evoke the idea of ivory, in a form more compatible with the architectural developments of the last thousand years or so.  (An ice-age hut of mammoth ivory and bones may be technically an example of ivory as architecture, but it lacks the grandeur of a “tower.”) 

    Ornament as desired with inlay of precious and semi-precious stones.  Bonus points if the inlay is of a technical level so that the pieces are so carefully cut that adhesive is unnecessary.  

    You’ll have a tower that meets the utterly impractical and excessively ostentatious standards of “ivory tower”, even if you don’t have access to enough actual ivory to build said tower. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Don’t forget the Blunt Amendment, which would have created a freeform “conscience exemption” to any health care “item or service”, based on any religious or moral conviction — which is about as vague as it sounds. They tried to spin it as merely negating the contraception mandate but if you actually read the plain text of the amendment it goes way past that to the point where it probably should be have been rewritten as a separate piece of legislation.

  • Tricksterson

    I did say of significant size, by which I meant multistoried buildings like oh, say, a tower.

  • Tricksterson

    Nifty article though.

  • Ursula L

     thought they were supposed to engage in some civil disobedience and get arrested in order to highlight their concerns… 

    What sort of civil disobedience were they planning to engage in?

    Civil disobedience is not merely protesting and getting arrested.

    Civil disobedience is about identifying a particular law as unjust, and then deliberately breaking that law, because you consider it unjust and unworthy of obedience.

    So Gandhi led Indians in breaking laws that placed high taxes on salt and forbade  people from making their own salt from seawater, or gathering sea-salt at the shore, because salt was a necessity of life, that was being made impossibly expensive, due to laws created by an occupying imperial power looking to enrich itself without the consideration that a government owes to the welfare of the people it governs.

    Black protesters engaged in civil disobedience when unjust laws allowed business people to refuse to serve them, and they went to the businesses (such as lunch counters) and politely but firmly went through all the steps that any customer goes through to be served, and refused to leave until they were served, because laws that let business owners says “I won’t serve you because you are black” are inherently unjust.   And this injustice was not merely one of individual inconvenience for a particular meal.  The injustice came from the widespread nature of the discrimination, so that, say, a black person who had a job as a traveling salesman could not earn a living, because restaurants, hotels and other services for travelers were so discriminatory that the entire line of business of traveling while you worked became not just impractical but impossible.  

    What law could the Catholic Bishops in the US, today, break, because it was causing them a profound and unjust harm?  

    None.  

    Even if Obamacare (Yay Obama! Yay Health Insurance Reform!) is an unjust law, it is not in force today in the ways which they object to.  They cannot act in civil disobedience of sections of a law that are not yet in effect.  

  • Tricksterson

    It’s tough to play the martyr when noone’s trying to martyr you.

  • Lori

     

    Seriously – I heard the argument that since insurance is a pool, if even
    one single Catholic employee (anywhere) is contributing to the
    insurance pool, then it was a violation of their religious rights to
    have that pool pay for contraception.  

    Oh, that’s just brilliant. Not only is it a major logic FAIL, it’s an invitation to disaster—for Catholics. The days of  actual anti-Catholic discrimination weren’t so fun for everyone that it’s a super idea to bring them back by whining about imaginary anti-Catholic discrimination*.  [eyeroll]

    No one with any sense wants to create a situation where an employer looking to attract the highest quality workers has to chose between Catholics and all non-Catholic women and men with wives who they want to cover as dependents on their insurance.

  • http://profiles.google.com/anoncollie Anon Collie

     It’s amazing what Carlson left out of his little speech.
    Thanks for the clarification.

  • BC

    Ursula:  I think they were going to do mass disobedience of the employer-provided insurance requirement, but I’m not quite sure.  I thought it was all hyperbole on their part – never thought there would actually BE a “Fortnight for Freedom” at all.  Maybe they planned to burn their insurance policies en masse?

  • guest

    Weirdly enough, there was an essay about this in a recent Journal of the British Society for the History of Science.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Fortnight events were publicized and promoted in every diocese and every parish across the country

    Not mine. We were more focussed on how awesome it was that Sr. Joan Chittister was coming to speak at our baccalaureate :)

  • The_L1985

    Nope. Marble. But it’s ivory-colored (at least, St. Peter’s is–and it’s HUGE. Photos don’t do it justice.)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I’m surprised the “Men’s Rights Activists” didn’t glom onto this like superglue.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RHLJILNCJRFGBX3RXSRO3QDSZY Steven

    They should have gone with a fully loaded 747 of freedom instead. At least they had enough people to fully load a 747. 

  • Tonio

    If one ignores the disingenuous nature of those arguments, it sounds like Catholics can have true religious freedom only in a society where everyone shares their beliefs. These arguments are so broad as to cover almost any type of interaction with an economy or government in a multireligious society. Reminds me of Tom Monaghan’s unconstitutional plan for building a Florida town that would operate as a Catholic theocracy.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Part of what we learned here, I think, is that if you’ve got a top-down, hierarchical mentality that regards listening to anyone else as beneath you, as an affront to your righteous authority, then you’re probably not well-suited to rallying grassroots support. When that arrogant mentality shapes your outlook, it seems, you’re probably not even capable of recognizing that you’ve utterly lost all grassroots support.

    No one outside of a very limited geographical area will understand the significance of this or why I bring it up in response to the above, and even most of those in said area won’t unless they’ve been paying attention to very specific things, but…

    Isn’t it great that Selma Botman is gone?

    I’ve heard her successor think that her primary job is to listen to those she is in charge of because they’ve probably already sorted out the solution to most problems and her job is to choose the best such solution and implement it.  It looks as though the days of everyone not at the top being treated as ignorance underlings are over at the University of Southern Maine.

  • Tonio

    It’s worse than I thought. (The parts in bold are my emphasis.)

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/sunday-school-teachers-balk-at-oath-agreeing-to-all-church-teachings/2012/07/11/gJQAcAvGeW_story.html

    Last month, Riley joined at least four other Sunday school teachers and
    resigned from her post at St. Ann’s parish after a letter arrived at her
    home requiring her — and all teachers in the Arlington Catholic Diocese
    — to submit “of will and intellect” to all of the teachings of church
    leaders…

    Such oaths are not new for priests or nuns but extend now in some
    places to people like volunteer Sunday school teachers as well as
    workers at Catholic hospitals and parish offices. One in Baker, Ore., reiterates the sinfulness of abortion and says, “I do not recognize the legitimacy of anyone’s claim to a moral right to form their own conscience in this matter.”  One in Oakland, Calif., requires leaders of a group doing outreach to gay and lesbian Catholics to say they “affirm and believe” official church teaching on marriage, hell and chastity…

    The Arlington “profession of faith” asks teachers to commit to “believe
    everything” the bishops characterize as divinely revealed
    , and
    Arlington’s top doctrine official said it would include things like the bishops’ recent campaign against a White House mandate that most employers offer contraception coverage…

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    Melinda Gates pledges $560 million for contraception
    Such a shame that Mrs. Gates hates freedom so much…

    On the topic of the actual post…

    [...] a campaign meant to promote religious liberty actually denies the religious freedom of many Catholic women, who rely on their personal religious convictions to determine their stance on contraception and the mandate

    From the perspective of the Bishops this is a feature, not a bug.

  • LL

    Late on this (I was kinda busy yesterday), but: Good. Maybe there’s hope for America and the world, after all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Edo-Owaki/1268185670 Edo Owaki

    The Arlington “profession of faith” asks teachers to commit to “believe everything” the bishops characterize as divinely inspired…

    Can anybody explain how this “commit to believe” thing works? Because I don’t get it. At all.

    I get creeds and confessions and statements of faith. I get that the Magisterium has the right to proclaim dogma that *must* be believed, and it follows that they can exclude people over that. But how do you “agree” to believe? It sounds like belief is a function of willpower, something you control and can choose to do or not the way you choose words.

    My cynic says that it’s because faith is irrelevant and the entire “profession” is just an exercise in authoritarianism, but is there something else to it?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     I imagine it works very similarly to the “commit to love someone” thing that married couples do all the time… that is, it acknowledges that while I don’t have moment-by-moment control over my mental states, the choices I make will nevertheless have an effect on the mental states I enter into over time, and that if I’m committed to staying in a particular mental state over time that will establish certain constraints on how I choose to live my life.

  • MaryKaye

    But in practice I doubt it means “commit to believe” which is unenforceable, and really means “commit to claiming to believe” which is what a lot of Catholic institutions actually do enforce.  The AAUP (American Association of University Professors) has had issues with several Catholic institutions lately as those institutions, under apparent pressure from the Vatican, dismissed faculty for expressing “wrong” opinions or even for insufficient fervor in expressing “right” ones.

    I sincerely hope that this kind of behavior makes it hard for those institutions to recruit, but unfortunately in the current job market employers can get away with a lot of misbehavior that would hurt them in a better market.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X