5 Crucial Components of Religious Liberty

 

We Are The Worst Enemies To Religious Liberty

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

Archbishop Chaput Talk to Catholic Journalist

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. First Things

First, religious freedom is a cornerstone of the American experience. This is so obvious that once upon a time, nobody needed to say it. But times have changed. So it’s worth recalling that Madison, Adams, Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, Jefferson–in fact, nearly all the American founders–saw religious faith as vital to the life of a free people. Liberty and happiness grow organically out of virtue. And virtue needs grounding in religious faith.

Gertrude Himmelfarb, the historian, put it this way: The founders knew that in a republic, “virtue is intimately related to religion. However skeptical or deistic they may have been in their own beliefs, however determined they were to avoid anything like an established Church, they had no doubt that religion is an essential part of the social order because it is a vital part of the moral order.”

Here’s my second point:

Freedom of religion is more than freedom of worship. The right to worship is a necessary but not sufficient part of religious liberty. Christian faith requires community. It begins in worship, but it also demands preaching, teaching, and service. It’s always personal but never private. And it involves more than prayer at home and Mass on Sunday–though these things are vitally important. Real faith always bears fruit in public witness and public action. Otherwise it’s just empty words.

The founders saw the value of publicly engaged religious faith because they experienced its influence themselves. They created a nation designed in advance to depend on the moral convictions of religious believers, and to welcome their active role in public life.

Here’s my third point:

Threats against religious freedom in our country are not imaginary. They’re happening right now. They’re immediate, serious, and real. Earlier this year religious liberty advocates won a big Supreme Court victory in the 9-0 Hosanna-Tabor v EEOC decision. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: What’s stunning in that case is the disregard for religious freedom shown by the government’s arguments against the Lutheran church and school.

And Hosanna-Tabor is not an isolated case. It belongs to a pattern of government coercion that includes the current administration’s HHS mandate; interfering with the conscience rights of medical providers and private employers, as well as individual citizens; and attacks on the policies, hiring practices, and tax statuses of religious charities and ministries.

 

Why is this hostility happening?

A lot of it links to Catholic teaching on the dignity of life and human sexuality. Catholic moral convictions about abortion, contraception, the purpose of sexuality, and the nature of marriage are rooted not just in revelation, but also in reason and natural law. Human beings have a nature that’s not just the product of accident or culture, but inherent, universal, and rooted in permanent truths knowable to reason.

The problem, as Notre Dame law professor Gerry Bradley points out, is that critics of the Church reduce all these moral convictions to an expression of subjective religious beliefs. And if they’re purely religious beliefs, then–so the critics argue–they can’t be rationally defended. And because they’re rationally indefensible, they should be treated as a form of prejudice. In effect, 2,000 years of moral tradition and religious belief become a species of bias. Opposing same-sex “marriage” thus amounts to religiously blessed homophobia.

There’s more. though. When religious belief gets redefined downward to a kind of private bias, then the religious identity of institutional ministries has no public value–other than the utility of getting credulous people to do good things. So exempting Catholic adoption agencies, for example, from placing kids with gay couples becomes a concession to private prejudice. And concessions to private prejudice feed bigotry and hurt the public. Or so the reasoning goes. This is how moral teaching and religious belief end up getting hounded as hate speech.

Here’s my fourth point:

Unless we work hard to keep our religious liberty, we’ll lose it. It’s already happening in other developed countries like Britain and Canada. The U.S. Constitution is a great document–historically unique for its fusion of high ideals with the realism of very practical checks and balances. But in the end, it’s just an elegant piece of paper. In practice, nothing guarantees our freedoms except our willingness to fight for them. That means fighting politically and through the courts, without tiring and without apologies. We need to realize that America’s founding documents assume an implicitly religious anthropology–an idea of human nature, nature’s God, and natural rights–that many of our leaders no longer really share. We ignore that unhappy fact at our own expense.

Here’s my fifth and final point:

Politics and the courts are important. But our religious freedom ultimately depends on the vividness of our own Christian faith–in other words, how deeply we believe it, and how honestly we live it. Religious liberty is an empty shell if the spiritual core of a people is weak. Or to put it more bluntly, if people don’t believe in God, religious liberty isn’t a value. That’s the heart of the matter. It’s the reason Pope Benedict calls us to a Year of Faith this October. The worst enemies of religious freedom aren’t “out there” among the legion of critics who hate Christ or the Gospel or the Church, or all three. The worst enemies are in here, with us–all of us, clergy, religious, and lay–when we live our faith with tepidness, routine, and hypocrisy.

Religious liberty isn’t a privilege granted by the state. It’s our birthright as children of God. And even the worst bigotry can’t kill it in the face of a believing people. But if we value it and want to keep it, then we need to become people worthy of it. Which means we need to change the way we live–radically change, both as individual Catholics and as the Church. And that’s where I’d like to turn for the rest of these brief remarks.

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5 comments to 5 Crucial Components of Religious Liberty

  • Robert Ferrez

    http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=1161

    “It’s easy to blame the Obama administration, which has been so consistently hostile to the claims of religious freedom. But probe a little deeper, and you realize that the American Catholic bishops themselves deserve a goodly part of the blame, for a failure to implement a clear Vatican directive 25 years ago.
    “In 1990, St. John Paul II issued his apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae.”

    I’m praying the the Jesuits will become Catholic!!!

    There will be no peace in the world until there is peace in the womb.

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  • Lourdes del-Calvo

    May God Bless Archbishop Chaput, wish everyone could read all your writings and read that marvelous book…”Render Unto Caesar”. We need to pray for our Country to go back to our principals and religious values, honor and respect to all. We need to begin to have a life of daily prayer, talking to God that’s what prayer is all about. He will listen to all of us and will send the Holy Spirit to fill us with His Gifts and evil will be wipe off from our Nation.

  • Excellent explanation of the inherent, central place that religious freedom has in our nation, and I am most concerned about Archbishop Chaput’s last point: “The worst enemies are in here, with us–all of us, clergy, religious, and lay–when we live our faith with tepidness, routine, and hypocrisy.”

    Thank you, Archbishop Chaput and Courageous Priest for your courageous and truth-filled witness!

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