.- The political climate in the United States has silenced the voice of religious believers, and it is high time that they reclaim it in the current public debates, said Archbishop Charles Chaput.
Two popular phrases in American political circles - "don't impose your beliefs on society" and "the separation of Church and state" - are "sound bites designed to shut down serious thought," said the archbishop of Denver Oct 6. He spoke on the topic at the Religious Institutions Law Day Conference in Colorado Springs.
These are "usually foolish, frequently dishonest and ultimately dangerous arguments that confuse our national memory and our national identity," he said in his talk, titled "Divided Hearts: Americans, Religion and National Policy."
"People who support permissive abortion laws have no qualms at all about imposing their views on society," he said. "That's their right. They're acting on their beliefs. But in a democracy, everybody - including religious believers - gets to play that game," he told conference participants.
"In fact, to be healthy, the political process demands it. So for Catholics to be silent in an election year about easy abortion laws and pro-abortion campaign agendas out of some misguided sense of good manners is actually a form of theft from our national conversation," he continued.
"For religious believers not to advance their convictions about public morality in public debate is not an example of tolerance. It's an example of cowardice," he stated.
The archbishop commented on how the phrase "separation of Church and state" has been interpreted to mean that "religious believers should shut up about legislative issues, the appointment of judges and public policy.
"What the Founders intended [with this phrase] was to prevent the establishment of an official state Church," he explained. "They never intended, and never wrote into the Constitution, any prohibition against religious believers, religious leaders or religious communities taking an active part in public issues and the political process.
"When the 'separation of Church and state' begins to mean separating religious faith from public life, we begin to separate government from morality and citizens from their consciences. And that leads to politics without character, which is now a national disease," he said.
The archbishop reflected on the hostility directed toward religion in the U.S. over the last 50 years. He speculated that it is the result of a "knowledge economy," where "religion looks stupid," and traced this attitude back to the days of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
"We are more than simply 'one nation under God'," the archbishop concluded. "In the light of our history and the founding ideas and documents that shaped us as a people - we are one nation because of our belief in God."
As a result, the U.S. has a religious heritage that must be protected for future generations, said the archbishop, adding that there is no more loyal form of citizenship than this.
Read the Archbishop's remarks at: http://www.archden.org/images/divided_hearts_final.pdf