Standing Up for ‘The Most Cherished of American Freedoms’
“What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative and robust civil society – or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it.” ~ USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty.
People from different cultures and religions may attribute the meaning of “religious freedom” based on their historical context, their religious experience, the tense or harmonious relationship between civil and religious doctrines, the meaning of freedom, and other elements that contribute to the fabric of their culture. What is the meaning for us, members of the Catholic Church and citizens of the U.S.? Two documents describe how religious freedom is rooted in the dignity of the individual, namely, the Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, promulgated by Pope Paul VI (Paul VI, Dignitatis Humanae) and the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States (U.S. Const. amend. I). Upon reading these documents, one would ascertain that religious freedom is the road to peace that expands across the world, society, and our community. This is the path that leads us to live and act in solidarity with each other nurturing and promoting the common good (Benedict XVI, Religious Freedom, The Path to Peace).
Religious freedom is the path to peace that leads us to search for the truth. The quest for peace and the search for the truth rest in the strong and solid foundation of a civil society that protects the individual to act without coercion for the common good based on his or her religious beliefs. The strength of religious institutions to support and promote the quest is enabled by the ability to establish norms, educate its members, direct, influence, and motivate the members’ actions and help them elevate the meaning of their achievements to a strong faith in God. Thus, the path to peace protects, fosters, and promotes toleration, engenders diversity and prevents inbreathing of disturbance and confusion that stems from the difference in beliefs, traditions, and values across the world, society, and our community.
What does this mean to you and me who sit in the church’s middle pew every Sunday? What does it mean for us who find it difficult to find time and space to commit to the Church outside of Mass? (Korgen, 2007) It means that we are called to know and understand the current challenges, issues, events, laws, decisions, and actions facing religious freedom. It means that we must not take this freedom for granted and assume it is a given because our Constitution protects it and our Church has been enabled to preserve it. We must not sit in the middle pew our whole life and become mere spectators and passive participants. We must contribute actively to the nurturing and preservation of this freedom in whichever way we are able to and pray to God that we may not walk through the darkness of a sordid path due to inaction but instead walk through the narrow and constricted path (Matthew 7:14, The New American Bible); the bright path of love and peace.
Benedict XVI. Vatican. Religious Freedom, The Path to Peace. 1 Jan. 2011. 18 Jun. 2016.
Korgen, J. O. (2007). My Lord & My God. Engaging Catholics in Social Ministry. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Paul VI. Vatican. Declaration on Religious Freedom — Dignitatis Humanae. 7 Dec. 1965. 10 Jun. 2016.
Pat Guzman is a retired executive from one of the top consulting firms in the U.S. She holds the knowledge, experience, and insights of a 38-year career as a consultant. Currently, Pat is a Social Services volunteer at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Houston, Texas. She manages the Food Pantry, serves Meals-on-Wheels, teaches ESL, and is a member of the Social Services Board. Pat holds a Doctorate in Organizational Management and a Master’s degree in Management Information Systems.
The first step towards actively contributing to the ‘nurturing and preservation’ of Religious Liberty is to inform ourselves on the matter. Much like the case for Catholic Social Teaching, the topic of Religious Liberty has been egregiously misunderstood and misrepresented. It has unfortunately been reduced to a mere right to private thought or worship at best. As this year’s Fortnight for Freedom draws to an end on Independence Day, we conclude our section on Faithful Citizenship with John M. Grondelski’s review of Kevin Seamus Hasson’s book, “Believers, Thinkers and Founders: How We Came to Be One Nation Under God” in The National Catholic Register.
“Where the English nation historically has had Anglicanism, and before that Catholicism, America instead has a philosophy, and on the basis of that philosophy our government presupposes the existence of a God who endows the people with rights. Our rights tradition … presupposes theism. That choice cannot simply be walked back after more than two centuries without abandoning the foundations of the rights themselves.” ~ Kevin Seamus Hasson.