Lifelong Learning – The Vision Thing

A Catholic View of Religious Freedom in the United StatesVisionSpread

by Edwin Cook

In the fall of 2011, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) formed the ad hoc committee for Religious Freedom, headed by Bishop William Lori. He appeared before the U. S. Senate on October 26 of that year to address the concerns of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the libertas ecclesiae (freedom of the church, as an institution) against perceived threats from groups advocating abortion and contraceptive rights.1 On November 8, 2011, he told Catholic News Agency (CNA) that the first goal of the ad hoc committee was “to lift up the whole area of religious freedom, beginning with the teachings of the church in Dignitatis Humanae—the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom” and also to recoup “the vision of our Founding Fathers of the United States” regarding religious freedom.2 For him, religious freedom, one of the chief cornerstones of American society, is being violated through restrictions on the free exercise of religion in the public square by some liberal groups.

Implicit in Bishop Lori’s statement regarding the religious freedom vision of our Founders is its compatibility with a Roman Catholic understanding of religious freedom. Is this a historically accurate characterization? Perhaps a short review of a Roman Catholic understanding of religious freedom and that of the American republic is in order. Modern Roman Catholicism struggles with adaptation to the prevailing democratic political systems of our world today, many of which allow for religious pluralism.3 Accustomed to centuries-long church-state relations in Europe in which the secular political order was based on Continue Reading…

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