Efforts by government agencies to quash freedoms and liberties enjoyed by Americans appear to be in overdrive these days. At least that’s the perception. One must only look at recent revelations concerning the National Security Agency.

Earlier this month it was revealed that the NSA had obtained a secret court order compelling Verizon to turn over data for millions of its customers. Shortly thereafter, it was alleged that the world’s biggest Internet companies were also handing over all kinds of data about American citizens to the NSA.

These disclosures raise all kinds of constitutional questions concerning privacy issues and the government’s role in safeguarding its citizens from attacks both domestic and foreign.

But this latest government controversy also served to put in our collective rearview mirror a scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service, which under pressure admitted to targeting conservative organizations that claim 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status.

Which brings us to another hotly debated policy decision with profoundly negative implications for freedom-loving citizens across the land: the right to religious liberty.

“Finalized” in February 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued a mandate that will compel virtually all private health plans to provide coverage that denies religious freedom — namely providing coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.

The HHS mandate, as it is known, requires the stakeholders in the health coverage transaction to subsidize the costs associated with acts that people of faith deem intrinsically immoral — or pay a steep, debilitating price. The mandate not only affects Catholic hospitals, universities and social service agencies, but private business owners who seek to live out their faith as given to them by God the Creator and protected under the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. (One local restaurateur from a Catholic family estimates that his chain of businesses could rack up $500,000 per year in penalties for failure to comply, as reported last month in The Catholic Sun.)

The HHS mandate, set to take effect Aug. 1, is the target of 44 separate lawsuits, 58 cases and 190 plaintiffs.

So how are the controversies surrounding the NSA, the IRS and the HHS mandate connected? On their own, they raise serious questions about issues of privacy vs. safety; the right to free speech; and religious liberty and conscience issues. Taken on the whole, these incidents add up to an outrageous assault on what it means to be an American, prompting, we hope, a larger conversation about the role of government in our lives and what it means to be free.

‘Fortnight for Freedom’

This weekend will kick off a two-week nationwide commitment to prayer called the “Fortnight for Freedom.” Catholics and others of good will are encouraged to recognize and look to the number of great martyrs who remained faithful throughout the ages in the face of persecution by political power — St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.

Masses to mark the Fortnight for Freedom begin this Saturday at 11 a.m. at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix and continue through July 4, followed by a special gathering of those in rosary prayer.

We call on our readers, their family and friends to engage in this special period of prayer, study and public action to recognize and preserve both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.