As political leaders look abroad, bishops insist on religious liberty in US

As political leaders look abroad, bishops insist on religious liberty in US

Supporters hold 'Women for Religious Freedom' signs outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., March 25, 2014. Credit: Addie Mena/CNA.
Supporters hold 'Women for Religious Freedom' signs outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., March 25, 2014. Credit: Addie Mena/CNA.

.- Religious and political leaders insisted that religious freedom is necessary for service and peace worldwide on Jan. 16, observed as National Religious Freedom Day in the US.

“On National Religious Freedom Day, we pray for the freedom to bear witness to the truth in love by our service to others,” the U.S. Bishops’ Conference stated on Friday.

Every year since 1993, the President of the United States has declared Jan. 16 Religious Freedom Day. The date commemorates the passage of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson and considered by him to be one of his greatest achievements.

The statute disestablished the Anglican Church as the official religion of Virginia, and granted the freedom of citizens to “profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion.”

Pope Francis called religious freedom a “fundamental human right” at the Jan. 14 canonization mass for the first saint from Sri Lanka, Joseph Vaz.

“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation and external compulsion,” he said.

In his proclamation on Religious Freedom Day, President Obama stated that the First Amendment extends protection to all those practicing their faith, changing their faith, or choosing not to practice at all, “free from persecution and fear.”

“In every country, individuals should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind -- and of the heart and soul,” the President stated.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) joined him in calling for religious freedom worldwide. Smith cited the recent terror attacks in Paris and Nigeria as further evidence of such a need.

“There is mounting evidence showing that countries which restrict religious freedom experience higher levels of religious extremism and persecution,” Rep. Smith stated. “The U.S. government must do more to stop religious-related violence, the daily persecution of Christians and so many other religious groups, and a growing and ugly resurgence of anti-Semitism.”

In their statement praying for “freedom to bear witness to the truth in love by our service to others,” the USCCB combined the themes of the 2014 Fortnight for Freedom, “Freedom to Serve,” with that of the upcoming fortnight, “Freedom to Bear Witness.”

Archbishop Lori explained to CNA last June that religious freedom is necessary for the Church’s ability to serve the poor, since charitable ministries must be allowed to operate in accord with Church teaching. Current threats to such freedom include the HHS mandate that charitable organizations must cover their employees’ birth control regardless of their religious beliefs, he noted.

“People are tending to say religious freedom is limited to freedom of worship, but then when you begin to serve the common good and the poor and the marginalized with charitable and social services, then you sort of have to check your convictions at the Church door and you have to sort of play by secular rules,” he said.

“And we say wait a minute, we have real difficulty with contraception and sterilization, and we certainly believe in traditional marriage as a matter of faith. And those people are saying to us well in that case, maybe you shouldn’t be out in the public square serving the needs of other people.”

Tags: National Religious Freedom Day

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