Friday, August 19, 2011

Religious freedom

Charles J. Chaput, the new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia, speaking at the Catholic World Youth Day in Madrid:
.... Religious freedom means being able to worship as we choose. It’s also the liberty to preach, teach, and practice our faith openly and without fear. But it involves even more than that. Religious freedom includes the right of religious believers, leaders, and communities to take part vigorously in a nation’s public life.

Freedom of religion presumes two things.

First, “freedom of religion” presumes that people have free will as part of their basic human dignity. And because they can freely reason and choose, people will often disagree about the nature of God and the best path to knowing him. Some people will choose to not believe in God at all—and they have a right to their unbelief.

Second, “freedom of religion” presumes that questions about God, eternity and the purpose of human life really do have vital importance for human happiness. And therefore people should have the freedom to pursue and to live out the answers they find to those basic questions without government interference.

Freedom of religion cannot coexist with freedom from religion. Forcing religious faith out of a nation’s public square and out of a country’s public debates does not serve democracy. It doesn’t serve real tolerance or pluralism. What it does do is impose a kind of unofficial state atheism. ....

The degree of religious freedom people enjoy depends on where they live. About 70 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with severe restrictions on the practice of religion. This ugly reality has only been getting worse.

The so-called “Arab Spring” that happened this year has received a good deal of media coverage. But very little of that coverage has mentioned that the turmoil in Muslim countries has also created a very dangerous situation for Christians and other religious minorities across North Africa and the Middle East. In Egypt, angry mobs have attacked Christian churches and monasteries, burning them to the ground and murdering the people inside. Christians have fled in large numbers from anti-Christian violence in Iraq, Syria, and Tunisia. In Saudi Arabia, it’s illegal to own a Bible or wear a crucifix. In Pakistan, Christians face frequent discrimination, slander, beatings, and even murder.

We also need to remember that religious freedom is not only under siege in places like China, North Korea, and many Muslim countries. It’s also at risk even in traditionally free environments like the United States and the European Union. ....

In the United States, our battles over abortion, family life, same-sex “marriage”, and other sensitive issues have led to ferocious public smears and legal threats not only against Catholics, but also against Mormons, evangelicals, and other religious believers. And with relatively few exceptions, the mass media tend to cover these disputed issues with a combination of ignorance, laziness, and bias against traditional Christian belief. ....
World Youth Day and Religious Freedom | First Things