Today marks the beginning of the “Fortnight of Freedom.” This two-week period culminating on July 4 is a time to celebrate and defend America’s first freedom, religious liberty.

Why make special effort to celebrate religious freedom now? Because religious freedom is a key pillar of the kind of life we enjoy in America, recognizing the dignity of human persons and our obligations to a higher power than civil government. This is why the Founders embraced freedom of religion as an essential condition of a free and democratic society.

Religious liberty means we can worship freely without fear of the government raiding our homes, threatening our loved ones, or otherwise penalizing us for our beliefs. In America, we can enter and leave faith communities without fear of violent persecution.

More than just being free to worship, though, religious liberty means we can practice our faith publicly in numerous ways, many of which we often take for granted. Regardless of our religious affiliation, we’re free to make arguments in the public square and to run for political office. We’re free to read, write, and publish books about our religious beliefs. We’re free to operate businesses according to our deepest convictions. We can educate our children according to the traditions of our faith, and we can observe the holidays and customs of those traditions. And we’re free to support charitable causes and organizations that are motivated and guided by religious commitments.

Religious freedom protects our ability to live according to our deepest beliefs. It means we don’t have to hide who we are and what we stand for.

If you appreciate the ability to worship freely where you choose, to teach your children what you think is true, and to remain true to your convictions in your place of work, you have reason to celebrate the Fortnight of Freedom.

Why make special effort to defend religious freedom now? Simply put, because recent policy actions of the Obama Administration—and in particular the Obamacare anti-conscience mandate—have undermined religious freedom in a striking and unprecedented way.

The mandate upsets the kind of freedoms that Americans enjoy. It imposes a fine on faith by penalizing employers who choose to follow certain teachings of their church. Even though half of Americans report being pro-life, the mandate would punish employers who refuse to provide group health insurance covering abortion-inducing drugs.

Policies like the mandate imperil religious identity; they encourage individuals and organizations to suppress who they are and what they stand for. By threatening their core sense of identity and inspiration, such policies undermine the ability to serve God and others freely and effectively. After all, it’s often a group’s religious faith that makes it so effective in serving people in need.

Moreover, the mandate sets a bad precedent with the narrowest definition in federal law to date of what groups qualify for a religious exemption. To qualify, an organization must hire and serve only members of its own faith. This means that most churches are protected, but religious hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, and other ministries are not.

Finally, the anti-conscience mandate attempts to remake civil society—including religious institutions—in the government’s image by forcing them to adopt its values. By exercising this kind of role, the Administration places the federal government at the center of society’s focus and expectations. It claims responsibility for more and more of Americans’ needs, and it asks—and demands—more and more from citizens—including money, authority, and trust. In so doing, the HHS mandate, and Obamacare in general, directs to Caesar that which belongs to God.

If you think it’s wrong for the government to force employers to violate their consciences or to tell religious schools and hospitals that they aren’t religious enough to be exempt because they serve anyone in need or to treat access to free morning after pills as a more basic freedom than freedom of religion, then you have reason to defend this bedrock liberty during the Fortnight for Freedom.

It’s not too late to talk to your pastor about the Fortnight for Freedom. Join hundreds of other congregations across the country by ringing a church bell (or hand bells) on July 4 at noon Eastern time. For more information about how you can “let religious freedom ring,” see the Heritage Factsheet on this issue.