This morning, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published a document titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty.”
To Americans who care about and work for religious freedom, the bishops’ statement is a powerful message of solidarity.
The bishops argue that, in America, religious freedom is our first and most cherished freedom and, without it, “all other freedoms are fragile.”
In giving this important principle due consideration, it is also important to recognize that one of the greatest threats to religious freedom today is the loss of freedom more generally.
Increased threats to religious freedom should come as no surprise in any society that tolerates ever-increasing intrusions into freedom of private action in general. This is true even if such intrusions are carried out with good intentions in the name of the most noble and humanitarian causes.
Because religious freedom goes hand-in-hand with freedom more generally, those who would protect religious freedom in the age of the administrative state must be prepared to protect freedom in general.
Today’s statement was developed by the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty and comes at a time when threats to religious freedom continue to grow.
In America, many threats to religious freedom today involve one or more of three main problems:
- The extremist view that religion should be banished from every nook and cranny of public life,
- The erroneous understanding that “freedom of religion” means nothing more than “freedom of worship,” and
- The ever-growing number of laws and regulations that govern private individuals and institutions and, incidentally or by design, burden the free exercise of religious or moral conscience in the process.
Examples of such threats include:
- The rule in New York City that would deny churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services even though private groups may rent the schools for scores of other uses;
- The Obamacare rule that forces employers—including many religious employers—to provide health care plans that include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization services, and contraception, even if doing so violates religious or moral conscience;
- Discrimination by public universities against Christian student groups that require leaders to be Christian; and
- Sexual orientation policies that have forced Catholic charity organizations to stop providing adoption and foster care services because they would not place children with same-sex couples.
“[L]ike any freedom,” write the bishops, “religious liberty requires constant vigilance and protection, or it will disappear.”
This timely reminder will hearten advocates of religious freedom in America and throughout the world.