Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series prepared by the Wisconsin Catholic Conference as a guide for those who wish to inform their consciences in order to participate more fully in the political process. To learn more about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (FCFC), visit faithfulcitizenship.org and wisconsincatholic.org.
Why is religious liberty vital?
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience is “based on the very nature of the human person, whose dignity enables him freely to assent to the divine truth …” (no. 2106). This freedom must never be coerced, for to do so is to injure human beings in their relationship with God.
As Pope Francis has explained, “Our various religious traditions serve society primarily by the message they proclaim. They call individuals and communities to worship God, the source of all life, liberty and happiness. … Our rich religious traditions seek to offer meaning and direction, ‘they have an enduring power to open new horizons, to stimulate thought, to expand the mind and heart’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 256). They call to conversion, reconciliation, concern for the future of society, self-sacrifice in the service of the common good and compassion for those in need. At the heart of their spiritual mission is the proclamation of the truth and dignity of the human person and all human rights” (Speech at Independence Mall in Philadelphia, Sept. 26, 2015).
What about the rights of nonbelievers?
As Pope Francis has written, “As believers, we also feel close to those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, yet sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we believe have their highest expression and source in God. We consider them as precious allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building peaceful coexistence between peoples and in protecting creation” (Evangelii Gaudium, 257).
What is the state of religious liberty in the U.S.?
“In the United States, religious freedom generally enjoys strong protection in our law and culture, but those protections are now in doubt. For example, the longstanding tax exemption of the church has been explicitly called into question at the highest levels of government, precisely because of her teachings on marriage. Catholics have a particular duty to make sure that protections like these do not weaken but instead grow in strength. This is not only to secure the just freedom of the church and the faithful here but also to offer hope and an encouraging witness to those who suffer direct and even violent religious persecution in countries where the protection is far weaker” (FCFC, 72).