Religious freedom is on your ballot

A troubling trend is appearing as our country grapples with social unrest and the impact of the coronavirus, but it’s not a new trend. Catholics and other people of faith are singled out for derision and sometimes physical violence. For the sake of our Church and our society, we must respond by defending the right to religious freedom, both when we vote and through our own personal witness.

The attacks on Catholics have shifted from the 19th century discrimination and claims that we can’t be loyal citizens, to the recent assertions that Catholics are judgmental and hateful towards women and sexual minorities.

Just as the arguments of the Know Nothing Party in the 1850s and the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s demonstrated a failure to understand what Catholics believe, so too do the modern attacks fail to understand and appreciate what we believe about the human person.

However, the goal of these attacks is the same: to shame and sideline Catholics within society and to increase the influence of those who do not accept God’s design for human nature.

In recent years, the lashing out against the Church in the U.S. has increased in its intensity, turning from criticizing her in the media and online to labeling Catholics as discriminatory in various ministries like adoption services or health care. Within the last several months this has even turned into physical violence against our symbols, church buildings and people, as frequently occurs in places like France, parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world.

The American Founders recognized that our self-government relies on a virtuous people. The increase in intolerance and violence we see today underscores this. John Adams addressed the need for virtue directly in a 1798 letter to Massachusetts militia officers, writing, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” As our country moved closer toward Civil War, Abraham Lincoln emphasized that a self-governing society thrives or dissolves based on its people: “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide” (Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, IL, 1838).

We are quickly approaching the national election on November 3, when our country will be asked to determine who is best suited to represent us in our legislature and as president. Among the premier concerns for Catholics when they vote are: Who will protect human life at every stage? Who will protect natural marriage and the family? And finally, who will defend religious freedom, protect consciences and the right of people to live out their faith in every sphere of society?

A society that has no common belief in God, and therefore in each person’s identity as his beloved son or daughter, will become less human and less tolerant. When there is no God, something or someone becomes god to fill the void, leading to tragedy, and eventual societal collapse. Now is the time for us to stand up for the place of full-throated Catholic belief in public life and the valuable contributions of people of faith to society.

Essential for every Catholic to fulfill his or her duty as a citizen is knowing where candidates stand on the issues of life, family and religious freedom. It is not possible to be a Catholic in good standing and support abortion or assisted suicide, to promote unnatural sexuality, or to seek to push people of faith out of the public square. Those who do so – Catholic or not – are helping hollow out our culture and contributing to its demise. The further away we get from a virtuous and moral life the more likely will we look like Greece or Rome when they fell, or like Venezuela today. Every Catholic needs to inform themselves on where each candidate stands on these issues by reading news outlets that cover these topics, such as Catholic News Agency or the National Catholic Register.

In the early 1900s it worked for Catholics to develop our own school system, establish hospitals and run our businesses according to our faith. We served and continue to serve the poor and homeless with the charity of Christ, especially seen in the work of Catholic Charities. This was how we protected and grew our faith over the last 100 years, but the “cancel culture” that seeks to silence the sincerely held beliefs of individuals will also not tolerate the presence of these faith-driven entities if we allow it to gain enough momentum. We cannot adopt the mentality of, “it’s fine for others to act that way, but we won’t.” The morals of society will impact us, and we cannot turn a blind eye to evil.

If we want our country to flourish, then out of charity for our fellow citizens and future generations, Catholics need to strongly advocate for the necessity of religious freedom and vote accordingly.

May God bless each of you and may God bless America!

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”