Bishop Zubik gives address on religious freedom

GREEN BAY — Addressing an audience that included several lawyers and judges, Bishop David Zubik said there was no need to discuss the “legal ins and outs” of religious freedom. Instead, he focused on what religious freedom means in today’s culture and society in his keynote at the sixth annual Red Mass reception and dinner, Oct. 15, at Riverside Ballroom.

Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik shares a few words with Bishop David Ricken prior to the sixth annual Red Mass at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

The gathering, sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society of the Diocese of Green Bay, followed the Red Mass at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in which Bishop David Ricken was the celebrant. Bishop Zubik, former bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay and current bishop of Pittsburgh, served as the principal concelebrant and homilist. The purpose of the Red Mass is to invoke God’s blessings on those working in the administration of justice.

Bishop Zubik opened his dinner talk, entitled “The Freedom to Bear Witness,” with a story from his youth in Ambridge, Penn. The neighborhood houses hugged St. Stanislaus School, where he attended, so there was no space for a playground. The mayor closed down a street for 30 minutes every school day to allow the students to have recess time.
“We could play in the streets without fear of getting run over,” said Bishop Zubik. “We were children. We were the church. We were at play in the public square. No one tried to kick us out.”

Today, if a mayor regularly shut down a city street for a Catholic school, the town would likely be sued by the Freedom For Religion Foundation, he explained.

“Religious freedom is not secondary freedom, it is the founding freedom,” said Bishop Zubik. “Religious freedom in this country means that we pledge allegiance to both God and country, not to God or country.”

Bishop Zubik, who served the Diocese of Green Bay from December of 2003 to September of 2007, discussed two secular clichés associated with religious freedom. The first is that in addition to freedom of religion, there is freedom from religion. It is true in the sense that a person cannot be forced to practice a religion, but it is being used to ban religion and religious practice from public sight, he said.

Freedom of the press compared to religious freedom is an example of an aggressive secularism towards the latter, he explained. One can choose to buy or not buy a certain newspaper or watch or not watch a television news show, but “you and I have absolutely no right to ban newspapers or ban television news because freedom of press annoys you or me.”

The second cliché is the claim that the Constitution guarantees the freedom to worship. “Few want to ban religious worship, but many want to ban the rights of the faithful to talk about their beliefs in public service and public ministry,” said Bishop Zubik.

“We have the right, not just to worship, not just to pray privately … we also have the right to try to have an impact on our society for the common good,” he said. “We have our rights to express our beliefs publicly and try to convince hearts and minds. We not only have a duty, but the right to live out the faith in our ministries of service.

“Religious freedom is not a passive act. Religious freedom is intentionally action,” he added. “Religious freedom has to be expressed. Religious freedom has to be lived. Religious freedom has to be out in the open among the people. Freedom of religion can never be confined to merely the freedom to worship. It defies the Constitution and does a mortal injustice to society.”

Bishop Zubik closed with a story about St. John Paul II and the fall of Communism. In June of 1979, only nine months after he was elected pope, St. John Paul II made a pilgrimage to Warsaw, Poland. During a public Mass, the people chanted “We want God, we want God, we want God ….” Quickly, following the Mass, a huge cross that was erected in Victory Square was torn down and other religious symbols were moved.

Later in the pilgrimage, the pope held a meeting with youth at a church. A large crowd lined up outside. Following a brief prayer service, St. John Paul II made his way outside despite tension between believers and authorities.

“(St. John Paul II) threw out his text and bantered back and forth with the young people,” explained Bishop Zubik. “He led them in song and mixed in jokes. … Then several of the young people lifted up the 12-foot high cross and tens of thousands raised individual crosses. Pope John Paul II closed the evening by blessing them and saying, ‘Let’s go home quietly.’ Religious freedom had won. My thoughts turn to those kids in Ambridge who should be allowed to play in the streets yesterday and today.”

A long standing ovation for Bishop Zubik followed his talk. Judge William Griesbach, president of the St. Thomas More Society of the Diocese of Green Bay, announced that a Red Mass will not be celebrated in the fall of 2016, but will move to spring offering in 2017. For more information, visit www.stmsgreenbay.org.