The United States Catholic Bishop’s Conference is currently in the midst of celebrating its fourth annual “Fortnight For Freedom.” Running between June 21 and the holiday that commemorates the United States’ violently-achieved independence from Great Britain, these two weeks of prayer and coordinated action protest perceived threats to religious freedom purportedly posed primarily by gay rights and federally subsidized health insurance plans that cover contraception.
If a hotel owner being sued for refusing to rent a room to a same-sex couple qualifies as an abominable attack on human freedom, what does four decades of racist hyper-incarceration of black women and men represent? (Good thing the caretaker of that inn in Bethlehem was not a believer in traditional marriage as the proprietors of that inn in Vermont were.)
If Catholic Universities being required to sign a piece of paper that alerts the federal government to provide their employers with contraception coverage so that they do not have to triggers in the church two weeks of staged outrage, what would the state-sanctioned extra-judicial murder of black women and men incite?
If actions speak louder than words, then the United States Catholic bishops care more about the right of business owners to pick and choose their customers than they do about basic black existence.
The bishops’ decision to symbolically align this protest with the Fourth of July removes all doubt about what type of freedom they hold dear. This day celebrates violent revolution of, by, and for white bourgeoisie settlers and slave owners. This day marks the birth of a nation which defended the freedom of some to keep others un-free. As Frederick Douglas asks, “what, then, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”
Perhaps the bishops chose this day because they believe that the Fourth of July celebrates the only commitment all U.S.-Americans hold in common, freedom. But while the United States certainly declared independence on that day, it was not the day that its people become free. As Frederick Douglas reminds us, the Fourth of July testifies at least as much to what continues to divide us–black slavery and its un-repaired legacy–as it does to what unites us.
A true fortnight of freedom, one dedicated to the cause of universal human dignity, would select Juneteenth as its calendrical climax. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, white slave owners in Texas were able to avoid complying with the law until June 19, 1865. On that day, the last U.S.-American slaves found freedom. The Fourth of July marks the beginning of U.S.-American slavery; Juneteenth remembers the uncompleted beginning of U.S.-American freedom.
Black lives matter more than the consciences of capitalists. Don’t you agree?