Recently the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that Fortnight for Freedom would be renamed Religious Freedom Week, stating: “We are called to follow Christ as missionary disciples by serving others and living our faith in all that we do. Let us take a few moments each day from June 22 – 29 to pray, reflect, and take action on religious liberty, both here in this country and abroad.”
Enshrined in the Bill of Rights of our nation is the amendment that grants religious freedom to all people living in the United States. The First Amendment of the Constitution made certain that people of all faiths are permitted to practice a faith of their own choosing without unjust constraint by the government. It also made sure that that nation could not compel people to abandon their own faith/beliefs for a state appointed religion.
Our heritage as a nation has permitted the free expression and practice of religion for more than two centuries. However, our nation has also struggled many times over those two centuries to actually live up to the principle of religious freedom.
These attacks on religious freedom have come from many sides against various faith traditions. Too often these attacks are out of fear of the other or a desire to impose one’s own faith on others. It is important to always be vigilant so that the errors of the past don’t creep back in.
In the past couple weeks I have heard on two occasions fellow Catholics use derogatory language towards our Jewish brothers and sisters using the phrase “jewed” in reference to paying more than they expected for an item. This phrase is morally reprehensible and a racist term. I have also seen false information spread about Muslims on social media by fellow Catholics inciting fear and hatred.
One of the first steps to infringement upon religious freedom is often mockery of another faith or the believers of another faith. This is why such things are so dangerous, it picks at the fringes of the principle and can result in full discrimination, socially and legally. But such things are not only dangerous for religious freedom of those targeted but also for the souls of those who do the mocking and infringing on others’ rights.
Gregory I stated in a letter in 602 to the bishop of Naples discussing the coercion and intimidation that was occurring against Jewish people and others not sharing the Christian faith. He admonished them stating that they should be “engaged in displays of courtesy, not harshness. … For whoever acts otherwise, and wants to keep them away from their customary practice of rites under this pretext, is shown, to be more concerned with his own interests than with those of God.”
As we pray for religious freedom at home and abroad let us be mindful of the small things we may encounter that threaten religious freedom and work to help end such practices, speech and ideologies so they do not bear the poisonous fruit of religious persecution. Protecting the speech of others protects our as well.
The Formation For All session coincides with Religious Freedom Week, June 22-29. Sessions are designed for most ages as well as various demographics. You can find them at: dbqarch.org/rlsj/formation.