.- The leader of the Knights of Columbus called for strong Catholic witnesses to defend religious liberty before a gathering of roughly 1000 members of the faith in Washington, D.C.
At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on April 19, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson called for “a new Great Awakening in America,” in which Catholics “play a greater role than ever before.”
Anderson warned that the present moment is a critical one for the future of religious freedom in the United States and urged Catholics to call on God as they work to preserve this fundamental liberty.
“The spirit of our age is profoundly secular,” he cautioned. “And secularism accepts religion – if it accepts it at all – only on its own terms.”
During his remarks, he observed that religious freedom benefits not only believers but society as a whole.
Catholics “value religious liberty not only because it protects our personal autonomy,” he explained, but “because of the good which religion brings into the life of the individual believer and into the life of our nation.”
Anderson argued that the historical connection between Christian and liberty was not a coincidence but something fundamental.
The American founders unequivocally stated that people’s basic, inalienable rights came from their Creator, he said, and those views “have echoed down through our history,” stated by individuals from George Washington to John F. Kennedy to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Yet today we find a new hostility to the role of religious institutions in American life at a time when government is expanding its reach in extraordinary ways,” he said.
He pointed to the recent Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC case, in which the Obama administration attempted to restrict the definition of a religious minister to those “who perform exclusively religious functions,” a definition that was unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court in January.
Furthermore, he observed, Catholics across the country have rallied in opposition to a federal mandate that will require employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortion drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.
He also noted that after successfully running a program to help human trafficking victims, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was recently denied its request for a grant renewal when the administration decided to prohibit funding of groups that would not provide or refer for abortion and contraception.
Anderson said that these recent infringements upon religious liberty show that America is now seeing “a new government intolerance of religion,” under which “religion is subordinated to the political interests of the secular state.”
“A government willing to affect the faith and mission of the church is a government willing to change the identity of the church,” the Supreme Knight cautioned, questioning what further violations of religious freedom can be expected from such an administration.
As Christians we are called to be witnesses, praying and working to preserve our Catholic identity, he said.
Although the struggle will be difficult, we have a “reason for hope” based on past successes, even “in the face of established power structures,” he added.
“Every great religious renewal in America has led to an advance in civil rights,” he said, recalling the contribution of religious efforts to the founding of America, the abolition of slavery and the push for racial equality.
Now, Anderson said, Catholics must come together and make their voices heard in order “to keep open the doors of religious liberty.”