Evangelicals and Catholics Together, defending religious freedom

"Absent religious freedom, democracy crumbles."

Over the years, Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), which was founded in 1994, has released a number of ecumenical statements addressing a wide range of theological, social, and political issues. The most recent is on religious freedom. The statement is worth reading in its entirety; here are a couple of excerpts:

The most basic of these fundamental rights is religious freedom, which is most basic because it touches what is deepest in the human spirit: our thirst for the truth, which Christians believe is in fact a thirst for God. Religious freedom, then, grounds the freedom of speech, of assembly, of the press, and all other freedoms. Absent religious freedom, there is no freedom in the deepest meaning of the word. Absent religious freedom, democracy crumbles.

The fundamental human right of religious freedom precludes the establishment of a religion to which all citizens must conform. That is why the First Amendment to the United States Constitution wisely links the free exercise of religion to its prohibition of “laws respecting an establishment of religion.” The prohibition of an establishment of religion is one crucial means to advance the end of the free exercise of religion. Thus “no establishment” and “free exercise” are not in tension, as much modern jurisprudence understands them to be. Nor does “no establishment” demand a naked public square, shorn of religiously informed moral conviction. The “separation of church and state” is intended to protect freedom for religious conviction; it is not intended to promote religion’s exile from public life.

It is essential for the full expression of religious freedom that believers be welcome, in law and in social custom, to bring their religiously based moral convictions into the ongoing public debate over how we ought to order our common life. Religiously informed moral argument does not establish religion or impose sectarian values on a pluralistic society. Such charges are undemocratic, for they deny to fellow citizens and religious communities the right to bring the sources of their deepest convictions into public life. For their part, believers often have the resources to make their arguments in the public square in ways that every citizen, irrespective of religious belief or the lack thereof, can engage. Thus we seek neither a naked nor a sacred public square, but a civil public square open to the full range of convictions.  …
Religious freedom is under assault even in countries where the language of human rights is part of the public moral vocabulary. In Canada, for example, Evangelical pastors have been fined by “human rights commissions” for preaching biblical morality in matters of human sexuality. In Great Britain, couples have been denied foster children because of their commitment to teach the young the moral truths inscribed in the Bible. In Poland, a Catholic magazine editor was fined by a court for speaking the truth about abortion. In these and other instances, coercive state power is being deployed to impose a secularist agenda on society while driving religious faith and practice out of public life.

By these and other means, “religious freedom” is reduced to a private lifestyle choice. In Europe and Canada, what amounts to state-established secularism erodes the exercise of full religious freedom by impeding the public witness of Christian communities. It also substantially threatens the free exercise of religious belief in preaching and catechesis.

In the United States, religious freedom is being encroached upon and reduced through the courts, in administrative policy, and in our culture.

Read the entire statement on the First Things website.

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About Carl E. Olson 1220 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.