The Defense of Religious Liberty

As we approach Independence Day, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked Catholics and all people of good will to pray and advocate for the preservation and promotion of religious liberty in this nation and around the world.

For, in addition to the outright persecution and violence against Christians in places such as China, the Middle East and North Africa, we are witnessing an increasing suppression of religious freedom in the West.  Pursuant to what Pope Benedict called the “dictatorship of relativism,” in this nation, in Canada, and in Western Europe, there are increasing laws and regulations that, if upheld, will force anyone in business to go along with and even fund such things as artificial contraception, abortifacients, and decadent marriages.  There are efforts to force all universities to support a modern decadent agenda. And there are likewise many efforts to suppress the freedom to defend traditional morals by limiting employment and educational opportunities and by labeling the promotion of morals as hate speech.

When states such as Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi and North Dakota have considered laws protecting the religious liberty of churches and businesses, large corporations such as Coca Cola, Disney, Marvel, the NFL, the NCAA, PayPal, and Time Warner have used economic threats against them. And those efforts have sometimes been successful to the detriment of both freedom and democracy.  Freedom of religion was the first right guaranteed by the Magna Carta, which began, “In the first place we grant to God and confirm by this our present charter for ourselves and our heirs in perpetuity that the English Church is to be free and to have all its rights fully and its liberties entirely.”  It is also the first liberty protected by the Bill of Rights.

The protection of religion in the First Amendment was in turn largely based upon the Virginia Statue on Religious Freedom, which Thomas Jefferson considered to be the second of his three greatest accomplishments, following only the Declaration of Independence.  The preamble to that statute says, “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”  But now the federal and many state governments are trying to force businesses and even religious groups to fund and support practices contrary to their beliefs.

A strong defense of religious liberty is thus essential if this nation is to remain a homeland of freedom and a beacon of hope for the world.