The Fortnight for Freedom is from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day. Sponsored by the U.S. Bishops, the two weeks are meant to highlight the current threats to our freedom to practice our religion, threats that have become increasingly intense in the past six years since the annual event was initiated.

The Fortnight for Freedom Opening Mass will be celebrated by Archbishop William Lori on Wednesday, June 21 at 7:00 p.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, Maryland. Hundreds of talks, debates, celebrations, educational forums, and prayer vigils are scheduled across the country.

I love this year's theme and call from our Bishops: Hold firm, stand fast, and insist upon what belongs to you by right as Catholics... Our Most Cherished Liberty. There are plenty of people who would be just fine if no one believed in God or worshiped Him or obeyed His word. Those for whom these rights are crucial must be part of a strong voice defending them.

Certainly American Catholics and Christians are not persecuted in the horrendous ways they are in other areas of the world. Yet discrimination here has become more intimidating, and sadly, some have just begun to accept it without any opposition at all. Pope Francis has recently spoken of a “polite persecution” that many people face, as “when someone is persecuted not for confessing Christ’s name, but for wanting to demonstrate the values of the Son of God.”

Numerous, urgent examples abound. From the HHS mandate requiring even religious groups to pay for abortion and contraception to the many Catholic or Christian adoption or foster care agencies that are being forced to close because they will not place children with so-called same sex couples or co-habitating unmarried couples, a growing hostility to the practicing of one's faith has become commonplace. Christian students have found discrimination at school. In its over-100-year history, the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.

In another glaring example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) after years of providing service and support in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its grant specifications to require MRS to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching. Small congregations are finding themselves under pressure simply for being Catholic or Christian. New York City adopted a policy that barred the Bronx Household of Faith and other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services, even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for other uses.

As the bishops point out, challenges to religious freedom often come from a mistaken view of religion, a view that sees religion as good only if it conforms to every value that happens to prevail today. The bishops have called the faithful to get Informed, advocate, and pray for Conscience Rights.

However, the good that religious institutions do is inseparable from the parts that challenge prevailing norms. Religious convictions hang together, in and out of season. When faith groups violate their consciences, they undermine the whole mission of their ministry. People of faith and faith-based organizations need space to make their unique contributions to the common good. There's a crucial need for a Conscience Protection Act.

Cathy DeCarlo, a nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, was forced to take part in the gruesome dismemberment of a 22-week-old unborn child in 2009, and saw no resolution of her complaint to the HHS Office of Civil Rights (HHS/OCR) until 2013. Nurses have been told by Vanderbilt University and by a state-run medical center in New York that they must assist in abortions against their consciences. On June 21, 2016, the HHS/OCR declared that the State of California may continue forcing all health plans under its jurisdiction to cover elective abortions—in violation of the plain text of the Hyde/Weldon amendment. Violations of Hyde/Weldon are also taking place in other states, such as New York and Washington. And in 2011, a major Catholic organization providing exemplary service for victims of human trafficking was denied a federal grant to continue its work, in large part because it would not pledge to send these victims only to health care providers willing to help provide abortions. The Conscience Protection Act would eliminate such horrendous situations.

There are steps you can take to inform yourself and be part of a growing movement speaking up for American religious freedom:

Educate yourself on this crucial issue:  http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/religious-liberty-at-home.cfm   http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/how-to-talk-about-religious-freedom.cfm.

Subscribe to weekly action alerts and the monthly religious freedom newsletter at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/religious-liberty-take-action.cfm.

Join Catholics from all over the country in the nation’s capital on July 4 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to pray for our country and for our Church, pray along at home or watch on EWTN.

Consider hosting a religious freedom movie night at your house or parish. Films can be a great way to learn about our faith. Here are a few suggestions: A Man for All Seasons, about the martyrdom of St. Thomas More; For Greater Glory, about the struggle for religious freedom in Mexico; First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty, a video about religious freedom; Becket, about 12th century English martyr St. Thomas à Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Hold a prayer vigil for religious freedom. Eucharistic adoration, the Rosary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet and all be forms of intercession for our country and our first freedom. The U.S. bishops have made prayer resources available at www.fortnightforfreedom.org.

See educational and concise bulletin inserts you can have placed in your parish bulletin: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/bulletin-inserts.cfm.

View the relics of English martyrs Thomas More and John Fisher, on tour from England, in Miami, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington.

In lieu of a closing Mass this year, Archbishop William Lori will celebrate a Fortnight Mass on July 3 for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida.