2012 - Vol. 59
excerpt is from the recent statement by Evangelicals and Catholics Together
Defense of Religious Freedom © 2012. The full statement is published
Things, March 2012.
Assault on religious
We are ...deeply
concerned that religious freedom is under renewed assault around the world.
While the threats to freedom of faith, religious practice, and religious
participation in public affairs in Islamist and communist states are widely
recognized, grave threats to religious freedom have also emerged in the
developed democracies. In the West, certain religious beliefs are now regarded
as bigoted. Pastors are under threat, both cultural and legal, for preaching
biblical truth. Christian social-service and charitable agencies are forced
to cease cooperation with the state because they will not bend their work
to what Pope Benedict XVI has called the “dictatorship of relativism.”
of human rights, including governments, have begun to define religious
freedom down, reducing it to a bare “freedom of worship.” This reduction
denies the inherently public character of biblical religion and privatizes
the very idea of religious freedom, a view of freedom such as one finds
in those repressive states where Christians can pray only so long as they
do so behind closed doors. It is no exaggeration to see in these developments
a movement to drive religious belief, and especially orthodox Christian
religious and moral convictions, out of public life.
circumstances, we offer this statement, In Defense of Religious Freedom,
as a service due to God and to the common good. The God who gave us life
gave us liberty. The God who has called us to faith asks that we defend
the possibility that others may make similarly free acts of faith. By reaffirming
the fundamental character of religious freedom, we contribute to the defense
of freedom and to human flourishing, in our countries and throughout the
in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who reveals himself fully in the
Lord Jesus, we find the deepest source of religious freedom in the form
or nature of the human person created by God. Human beings have been created
with the capacity to know God, the will to seek God, and a spiritual thirst
for God. In Genesis 1:26, the Bible teaches us that only human beings are
made “in the image of God.” No one bears this image (imago Dei)
more than others; no one has the right to assert that by reason of race,
tribe, ethnicity, class, or sex his imaging of God is superior to another.
and especially religious freedom, reflects God’s design for creation and
his pattern of redemption. Religious freedom is thus grounded in the character
of God as revealed in the Bible and in the moral structure of the world
that we can know through reason. It is precisely as Evangelical and Catholic
Christians that we affirm, on the authority of the Bible, religious freedom
for all, even as we are prepared to defend religious freedom in public
life through arguments drawn from reason.
is a fundamental right. As the American founders put it, it is “unalienable.”
Religious freedom is thus a right that exists before the state. The just
state recognizes this right of persons and protects it in law. In doing
so, the state recognizes the limits of its own capacity: It cannot coerce
consciences; it cannot compel belief. For the state that recognizes and
protects religious freedom is not an omnicompetent state, but rather a
state that acknowledges the rights of conscience and the prerogatives of
the institutions that men and women freely sustain to express and pass
on their religious convictions. It recognizes its duty to serve, and not
to impede, those communities of civil society. Thus the recognition of
religious freedom in full is a crucial barrier to the totalitarian temptation
that seems to exist in all forms of political modernity.
In sum, religious
freedom has both personal and public dimensions. It is grounded in the
dignity of the human person as possessed of a thirst for the truth and
a capacity to know it. The state that recognizes religious freedom as inherent
and inalienable, a civil right protected by law, thereby acknowledges its
incompetence over the sanctuary of human conscience. Religious freedom
is fundamental both to the freedom of the individual human person and to
the sustaining of just and limited governments.
In a world
of manifest and innumerable inequalities, this radical equality of all
men and women before God is the bond that allows us to speak meaningfully
of a human family, a human race, in which we share mutual obligations—including
the obligation to recognize and honor that sanctuary of conscience in which
each person can meet the divine source of life. Any power, be it cultural
or political, that puts unwarranted impediments in the path of the human
quest for truth, which culminates in the human quest for God, is violating
order of creation....
Renewal of religious
We live in
the greatest period of persecution in the history of Christianity. In the
twentieth century, noble martyrs like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Blessed Jerzy
Popieluszko gave their lives for Christ amid a cloud of witnesses greater
in number than those martyred for the Name in the previous nineteen centuries
of Christian history. That witness continues today in the self-sacrifice
of men like Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian cabinet officer murdered because
of his defense of the religious freedom of all of his fellow Pakistanis.
and Catholics who seek to honor the witness of these and other martyrs,
we pledge to work together for the renewal of religious freedom in our
countries and around the world. We will resist the legal pressure brought
on Christians in the medical profession, the armed forces, and elsewhere
to participate in actions that they deem immoral on the grounds of both
faith and reason.
that the state enjoys its own sphere of competence. But we remind the modern
democratic state that it is a limited state. ...Thus we call on our public
officials to undertake prudent measures to advance the cause of religious
freedom in full.
In all of this,
we believe we are acting as Christians have been commanded to act, and
speaking as citizens of mature democracies ought to speak. Our faith in
Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and our baptism in the name of the Most
Holy Trinity, compels us to defend the religious freedom of all who are
created in the image of God. Our gratitude for the religious freedom that
has been a hallmark of North America for over two centuries compels us
to work to defend religious freedom in the United States and Canada, and
to work for the religious freedom of others in all lands.
For the sake
of the common good, we, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, urge our fellow
citizens and our public officials to join us in the renewal of religious
freedom: to defend religious freedom for all persons and to guard against
its erosion in our societies.