‘Go to the barricades for religious liberty’

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

That’s the headline on a piece today in the N.Y. Daily News from Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

He writes:

Religious freedom is a good in its own right, and it also fosters the common good. It enables people of faith to contribute to their communities. We see faith in action in schools, clinics and humanitarian assistance projects throughout the world. Faith inspires people to serve their neighbors, enriching the public life we all share.

Faith communities are also vital participants in public debates and often help hold governments accountable to their people. From neighborhood parish schools to faith-based soup kitchens and immigrant resource centers, religious ministries are essential to the social fabric.

And religious freedom reinforces other freedoms — of conscience, of the press and of assembly, to name just a few.

You’d think that governments would encourage religious liberty as a way to help their societies advance. But as Pope Francis has said, “In the world today, freedom of religion is more often talked about rather than put into practice.” Instead, many restrict religion and feed societal animosities toward religious minorities in the name of “good order” and control.

The result is too often violence and social conflict.

I’m very proud that, according to Pew, “government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion are more than two times lower in countries where Catholics are the majority population than in countries where Catholics are a minority.”

Respect for religious freedom rooted in basic human dignity is a core Catholic teaching. Right now, Catholics are celebrating our Fortnight for Freedom, two weeks focused on the importance of religious liberty.

We know that religion is a positive force that contributes to the advancement of the human family. Let’s stand with our brothers and sisters around the world as they stand up for their faith and their basic human right to practice it. And let’s urge our own government to make freedom of religion a major goal of U.S. foreign policy — for the sake of believers and nonbelievers alike.

Religiout freedom should be a major goal of U.S. policy too, as the Cardinal has said, pleading with the federal government to respect religious liberty and not force civil disobedience to increase. Of course, while entities like the Archdiocese of New York Dolan heads face that coercive HHS mandate come August and pray for a policy change, the Obama administration has been arguing that the likes of the evangelical Green family that runs Hobby Lobby (and Christian bookstores) have no religious-liberty claim, despite their opposition to abortion.

And, once again, the mandate includes abortion-inducing drugs. Give into this and what’s next? What will be the next campaign demonizing folks who want to want to do something commonsensical like protect 20-week-olds unborn babies (see House of Representatives and Unborn Pain Protection bill, Texas legislature) as waging a war on women?

If we don’t work to protect conscience now, things only get more tyrannical. When talking about “tolerance,” consider conscience. Consider Gospel mandates, and how they actually can do a society essential good. Or so our founders believed. Are we too secularized — including, if not especially, the professed religious in political and other public life – to see the urgent need for robust religious-liberty protection anymore?