COLUMBIA—Heavy downpours blanketed the Midlands on the afternoon of June 24 and kept many people at home, but those who attended the Freedom Festival at Cardinal Newman School made up for it with enthusiasm.
The celebration of religious freedom was part of a kickoff to the annual Fortnight for Freedom, which runs from June 21 to July 4. The two-week observance was started by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2012 in response to threats against religious liberty by the federal government.
The festival was sponsored by the Diocese of Charleston, the South Carolina Baptist Convention, Family Honor, and Concerned Women of America. Organizers wanted to offer a family-friendly event that would combine old-fashioned fun with a chance to celebrate patriotism and the importance of religious freedom.
Events were planned for outside, but were quickly relocated as thunderstorms rolled in. Organizers estimated about 150 people attended.
For the first hour or so, children played games and participants looked at exhibit tables while enjoying goodies from food trucks. A contemporary Christian band and singer from the Upstate performed in the gymnasium. Participants also walked in a candlelight procession around the campus.
A panel of speakers started around 7:30 p.m. with a greeting from Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, who explained the significance of the Fortnight for Freedom and talked about some of the threats to religious freedom, including health care legislation, which threatened to force Catholic health providers to go against Church teaching.
Bishop Guglielmone said the U.S. Catholic bishops recently decided to form a permanent Committee for Religious Liberty to assist bishops, pastors and laity around the country in spreading the message of religious freedom.
“We’re gathered here tonight because we love our God and we love our country, and we want that opportunity to express that love in many ways,” the bishop said. “It’s important that we continue to let government know we expect to be able to express our faith. There are forces in our society that would love to see all religious influence removed from the public square.”
Father Jeffrey Kirby, administrator of Our Lady of Grace Church in Lancaster, was the keynote speaker for the evening. He explained how the desire to worship is an integral part of human nature, and said a society that does not allow people to express their religious beliefs is on a dangerous downward spiral.
“If we are not worshipping God, we’ll worship something else,” Father Kirby said. “People who don’t worship God end up worshipping the state, or the desires of the flesh. When you have healthy human beings who are able to express their religious beliefs, you have an enriched society.”
Top photo, Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss: Participants enjoy the candlelit procession at the Freedom Festival held June 24 at Cardinal Newman School in Columbia.