My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
In many parts of the world Christians are suffering intense religious persecution. Last year, over 7,000 Christians were martyred for the faith leaving some to wonder whether we are witnessing a new genocide. Chaldean Christians in Iraq and Syria face the brunt of the violence. However, they are not alone. Those that live in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Libya are also at risk. Many more Christians are facing political and economic discrimination in places like China and India.
The political climate in the United States is chaotic and dispiriting. The Presidential nominees of both major political parties seem scandal-plagued and corrupt. America deserves better but perhaps these two contenders for our nation’s highest political office are simply a reflection of the citizenry. The character of a political candidate does matter. Unfortunately, the character of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has come under question which continues to obscure important policy discussions.
We in the United States have a grave responsibility to those who are suffering. In some cases, our brothers and sisters are suffering precisely as a result of U.S. foreign policy. They deserve more than a passing reference in a presidential debate, however. Indeed, we ought to ensure that Senator Charles Schumer and those other members of Congress standing for re-election, as well as those running for office, are aware of the importance of this issue and striving to find solutions for those who are innocently suffering.
While in our own country, we are not facing outright religious persecution, we should be concerned about the erosion of religious liberty. A totalitarian state does not grasp power in one fell swoop, but rather in the gradual relinquishment of rights. Religious liberty is not a code word for discrimination, as a recent report of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported. (See news story on Page 3.)
The insistence of the Obama Administration to require religious institutions to provide contraception for its employees is in itself offensive. More troubling is the precedent that we are just one step away from being legally required to provide abortion and euthanasia coverage.
Lest you think I am exaggerating, recently Wikileaks released the alleged exchange of emails between high-ranking Hillary Clinton advisors. Sandy Newman, for instance, is reported to have written, “This whole controversy with the bishops opposing contraceptive coverage, even though 98 percent of Catholic women, and their conjugal partners, have used contraception, has me thinking. … There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a Middle Ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church.”
What follows ought to be frightening. John Podesta, Campaign Chairman for the Clinton Campaign, reportedly responded, “We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this. But I think it lacks the leadership to do so now. Likewise Catholics United. Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up.”
What seems clear is that the Democratic Party is arrogant enough to assume that it is the arbiter of public morality.
As Catholics, we must demand our government respect our religious freedom, but we must also demand the same for our brothers and sisters of different faiths.
Donald Trump at one time proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States, as well as a religious test as a method for the screening of immigrants. Many believe his views have encouraged “Islamophobia” in our country.
In a speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 2015, Pope Francis reminded us “Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families. Because religion itself, the religious dimension, is not a subculture; it is part of the culture of every people and every nation.” (Sept. 26, 2015)
For the presidential election on Nov. 8, people of faith must concern themselves with religious freedom at home, as well as religious persecution abroad. It is a moral imperative. As Catholics, we must remain aware of the suffering of Christians around the world, while at the same time we must defend our rights here at home and ensure that they are not slowly being eroded.
In the Declaration on Religious Freedom from the Second Vatican Council we read, “The family, since it is a society in its own original right, has the right freely to live its own domestic religious life under the guidance of parents. Parents, moreover, have the right to determine, in accordance with their own religious beliefs, the kind of religious education that their children are to receive. Government, in consequence, must acknowledge the right of parents to make a genuinely free choice of schools and of other means of education, and the use of this freedom of choice is not to be made a reason for imposing unjust burdens on parents, whether directly or indirectly. Besides, the rights of parents are violated, if their children are forced to attend lessons or instructions, which are not in agreement with their religious beliefs, or if a single system of education, from which all religious formation is excluded, is imposed upon all.”(5)
In other words we need to have a robust private sector if we wish to enjoy freedom. This is especially true with respect to education of the young. Yet notice the trajectory where government and quasi government agencies are assuming all responsibility for education and health care and some other “charitable work.” The increasingly coercive power of the State is only now beginning to be felt by many Catholic social institutions.
As we put out into the deep, let us always be mindful of our brothers and sisters who risk martyrdom for the faith. These people of faith should to be in our prayers, and we must be their advocates.
We should be vigilantly defend our right – not simply to worship, but to live as we choose from all encroachments of the state or political powers.