In 2013, the bishops of the United States issued a statement on religious liberty entitled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.” In this statement, the bishops described why religious liberty is central to everything we stand for as Catholics and as Americans. They also let it be known that we are stewards of the gift of religious liberty called to “take care of” and “share” this precious gift with all our fellow Americans and with our sisters and brothers throughout the world.
The beginning of summer provides us with some helpful reminders of this stewardship responsibility. June 21 is the day we remember Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher who were martyred for their insistence on the rights and duties of an informed conscience. July 4, Independence Day, is our annual celebration of the patriotic men and women who gave their lives for all the freedoms we Americans enjoy today — including the freedom of religion.
As Pope Francis observed in his encyclical “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), #183, “Religion cannot be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life.”
When religious liberty is ignored or abused, all people suffer, and all are deprived of the essential contribution that religion makes to the common good — in family life, education, health care, ministry to the hungry, homeless and under-employed.
All are denied the advocacy for social justice and civil rights that religion promotes locally, nationally and globally. Religion is integral to humanity and to society. To deny religious liberty is to dehumanize individuals, families and communities.
Religious liberty has been under attack throughout the world for decades. Sometimes the anti-religious liberty forces have been subtle and indirect. Other times they have been blatant in their attempts to deprive individuals and organizations of their basic rights.
Especially overseas, the persecution and martyrdom of individuals, families and communities continues at a horrific rate. Here at home, secularism continues to exercise enormous influence over government policies, legislation and culture.
To be forthright about your faith — especially when aspects of what we believe are, at best, politically incorrect, and, at worst, in direct conflict with the established law of the land, the importance of conscientious objection becomes increasingly clear. All individuals and institutions must be free to follow their conscience when it comes to defending human life and dignity.
Ours is a pluralistic society. That means we don’t force people to think, act or believe as we do. We are a tolerant people — within the limits of human decency and the common good. But tolerance is a two-way street. Fairness and equality must apply to everyone — with liberty and justice for all.
Let’s join the bishops in applauding recent decisions that serve to reinforce “our first, most cherished liberty.” But let’s not forget that this battle is never won “once and for all.”
Every generation must fight the battle for religious liberty. Let’s take seriously our role as stewards of these freedoms. Let’s continue to pray, advocate and vote for religious liberty for all God’s people everywhere.
Dan Conway, a member of Holy Trinity Church, serves as a member of The Record’s editorial board and is a writer, consultant and stewardship educator.