Religious Freedom: foundational to Church, society Print this post

By Bob Reddy (Florida Catholic)


In the face of increasingly aggressive secularism, many Catholics wonder what is being done and what they can do to defend the faith.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore speaks to a group at St. William Parish in Naples about Religious Liberty on April 8. The event was consponsored by the Order of Malta and Knights of Columbus.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore speaks to a group at St. William Parish in Naples about Religious Liberty on April 8. The event was consponsored by the Order of Malta and Knights of Columbus.

To help answer that question, the Order of Malta and Knights of Columbus in Naples recently invited an expert on Religious Freedom to talk about its basis in the Church and what can be done to promote this fundamental freedom today.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, spoke April 8 at St. William Parish in Naples. The focus of his talk was how Dignitatis Humanae (Of Human Dignity) – the Declaration of Religious Liberty Second Vatican Council adopted in 1965 – is more relevant than ever.

“Religious freedom is foundational to our Church and to American society,” said Archbishop Lori said. “One of the key documents of the Second Vatican Council was Dignitatis Humanae, which explained the reasons for the importance of religious freedom. The Church has a deep commitment to the right of every person to have the ability to practice their faith and choose what is right, free of government interference.”

Archbishop Lori has been in the forefront of efforts by the Catholic Church to safeguard conscious rights of Catholics and Church ministries to conduct themselves, their ministries and businesses consistent with the teaching of the Catholic Faith.

Peter Bewley, Chair of the Naples area Order of Malta said the goal of the forum was the furtherance of the Order’s mission to defend the faith.

Archbishop Lori said he realized the dangers facing religious liberty when he was Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn. In 2009, the state attempted to reorganize Catholic Churches. “We could no longer take Religious Freedom protections for granted. Challenges to Religious Freedom will be with us for a long time and the teaching of this declaration (Dignitatis Humanae) is more important and necessary than it was ever before.

“Religious Freedom is more than freedom of choice, it is freedom from coercion. It is linked to human search for truth and God. It is God, and not the state, that grants our freedoms,” the Archbishop emphasized. “Dignitatis Humanae roots our religious freedom in our human nature.”

Citing the ongoing challenge to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) mandate to cover contraception, sterilization and abortifacients which is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, Archbishop Lori said that there are broad sweeping efforts to reduce Religious Freedom to freedom of worship, “closing us all up in our churches and sealing us off from influencing society. Going against what the Church was founded upon.”

Rulings related to the HHS mandate tried to define what organization is truly religious or not, exempting parishes, but not exempting schools or Catholic Charities, the Archbishop noted. “We don’t believe our churches and schools are less religious than our parishes. We believe our faith gives rise to charity, service and education that serve the common good. It is part of our Christian DNA.”

When asked what might be done to counteract attacks on Religious Freedom, both in the U.S. and abroad, Archbishop Lori noted that it is the “laity who have the principle responsibility for shaping a just society and for evangelizing culture.”

To do that, the laity must pray each day for persecuted Christians abroad and for the restoration and preservation of Religious Freedom here at home. Also praying for elected officials, judges, leaders, and for Church officials and other conscientious Christians in the crosshairs of this attack.

Archbishop Lori noted that education is also important, as many young people don’t have a clue about constitutionally protected freedoms.

He also encourage the “Apostolate of personal influence. Are we doing all that we can do to influence others in the ways of truth and freedom? Pope Francis said that once a critical mass of people in a parish have had the experience of opening their hearts to Christ in a transformative way, things change.”

One way to publically act is to participate in the fourth annual Fortnight for Freedom which takes place June 21-July 4. This year’s theme is “Witnesses to Freedom” and will include a nationwide tour of relics of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, martyrs of the English reformation. The Fortnight will also highlight stories of several people of faith from around the world.

For more information about Religious Freedom, please visit the USCCB’s religious freedom home page at and at


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