The U.S. bishops told a Senate subcommittee on March 29 that Catholics face growing threats to their religious liberty because of a “radical secular perspective” that seeks to eliminate moral judgments from public life.
“Religious communities, including our own Catholic community, have suffered from and still experience religious bigotry, bias and prejudice,” said Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington, D.C. He testified on behalf of the U.S. bishops at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing prompted by concerns about America Muslims' civil rights.
Cardinal McCarrick said that most instances of religious intolerance in modern Western countries are not motivated by sectarian tension between different faiths. Today, he observed, religious intolerance more often originates from “a radical secular perspective that insists that no moral principle or religious belief should ever challenge individual decisions.”
The cardinal acknowledged some U.S. Muslims' concerns about prejudice and suspicion, heightened by a March 2010 House of Representatives hearing on “radical Islam.” He recalled that Catholics' own history “as an immigrant people and a religious minority” was “filled with stories of persecution, suspicion fear, and intolerance.”
Cardinal McCarrick explained that the Catholic Church upholds the civil liberty of all religious believers who live in accordance with society's common good and the natural law. “It is the duty of the Church,” he said, “to urge all people of good will to avoid all forms of religious bigotry, bias and hateful words that injure the dignity of persons.”
But the cardinal pointed out that “offenses against the religious liberty of Catholics” are “not merely a thing of the past.”
“Indeed,” he said, “it continues to be important to raise the issue today.”
“Acts of bias and discrimination towards Catholics and our beliefs are often expressed very publicly,” Cardinal McCarrick noted. “For example, we are charged with discrimination or called 'bigots' when we advocate for the traditional understanding of marriage between one man and one woman, which many religious and non religious traditions have supported throughout human history.”
“We advocate for an authentic vision of marriage not to offend or to treat people unjustly, but to offer a positive and healthy model of the human family, which has served as the foundation of society throughout the ages.”
“The identity and integrity of our Catholic social institutions, or indeed those of other religious traditions, are also being threatened,” he continued.
Cardinal McCarrick warned that when “the state narrowly defines in legislation which religious institutions are 'religious enough' to enjoy religious freedom protections, or when the state imposes restrictions on how religious institutions and individuals are able to serve those in need, the ability to exercise religious freedom in an effective and authentic manner is greatly undermined.”
“There are well known contemporary examples,” he reminded lawmakers, “where the state would force religious groups and individuals to choose between following their religious beliefs and practices and following the dictates of law.”
“Where is the respect for religious freedom in compelling a religious entity to act in ways which contradict its most basic moral principles?” he asked.
Cardinal McCarrick said that it was especially important for the United States to show the Muslim world an example of healthy religious pluralism, rather than giving in to an aggressively secularized vision of social life.
“As predominantly Muslim societies wrestle with how to treat religious minorities, let them look to our nation,” he said, “where we work to ensure that their Muslim sisters and brothers are treated with dignity and their religious identity and beliefs are treated with respect.”
“Let them see a people blessed with hard won religious freedom, living out our commitment to the rights of all by demonstrating full respect for the identity, integrity and freedom of all religions and their institutions.”