Religious freedom is on your ballot

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

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: For Love of Country: A Catholic Patriotism

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Our country has been through a lot this last year, as we all know. As many people have reacted against the founding and history of the United States, I have found myself drawn towards greater patriotism. By this, I simply mean a deeper appreciation of what I’ve been given by my country and also a growing realization of the duty I have to work for the common good, here and now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this duty under the fourth commandment that enjoins honor not only to parents but also to anyone in authority.   

It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community (2239). 

Catholics, and all people of good will, are called to a love and service of country in order to work for the common good.  

Eric Metaxas argues that the future of our country depends precisely upon the active role of Christians in his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (Penguin, 2017). He describes something called the Golden Triangle, an idea he borrowed from Os Guinness, but which ultimately comes from the Founding Fathers. “The Golden Triangle of Freedom is, when reduced to its most basic form, that freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; and faith requires freedom. The three go round and round, supporting one another ad infinitum. If any one of the three legs of the triangle is removed, the whole structure ceases to exist” (54). John Adams, for example, related very clearly, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (quoted on 61). Metaxas comments, looking to specific examples around the world, “if you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart. It cannot be otherwise” (48). It cannot be otherwise. That may sound extreme, but we have many examples from Communist and Fascist countries and now even from movements within our country that aggressive secularism parallels a collapse of real freedom.  

The Constitution established an ordered liberty that requires responsibility and a determined effort of preservation. Hence the title of the book, taken from Benjamin Franklin, a republic “if you can keep it.” We are called to actively preserve our country: entering into a deeper understanding of the “idea” of America that undergirds the Republic as well as showing a loving determination to overcome challenges and threats to its continuance. This is not to whitewash the past, as we all know the injustices of our history. Metaxas argues that we can be grateful for the good and unique blessings of our heritage while also working to overcome failures. “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously” (226). Furthermore, by loving our country we are willing her good, drawing our own selves into the work for her good and helping her to be true to herself. “So that in loving America we are embodying her original intentions — we are indeed being America at her best — and in doing so we are calling her to her best, to be focused on doing all she can to fulfill the great promise which God has called her in bringing her into existence and shepherding her through trials and tribulations all these and centuries — and now” (235).  

As Catholics, we have a lot to offer our country by drawing from our rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. Michael Krom, a philosopher at St. Vincent College, provides us with a great resource in his new book, Justice and Charity: An Introduction to Aquinas’s Moral, Economic, and Political Thought (Baker, 2020). In an age of confusion, Catholics can bring greater clarity in our national discourse on the nature of human life, virtue, and politics. “We live in a time of ideological conflicts, in which the citizens of the nations of the modern world seem incapable of agreeing upon even the most basic of moral, economic, or political principles. Civil discourse has been replaced with violent protest, and reasoned dialogue with character assassination” (2). As Catholics, we should be able to look above all of this, literally: “While the Church does not force us to reject political citizenship, she demands that we direct it to the heavenly, and we can do that by heeding her call to engage the world rather than conform to it. I wrote this book out of the conviction that those who want to heed the Church’s call to engage our culture need to look to the past” (ibid.).  

Dr. Krom shows us that St. Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about living the good life, in pursuit of a genuine freedom and happiness, and that this should inform a Catholic approach to economics and politics. It is hard to work for virtue if you don’t know what virtue really is, and difficult to act justly toward others if you don’t understand the nature of duty. Aquinas can help us to judge the direction of our country, as “a government cannot be called ‘good’ unless it promotes just moral and economic relationships between its citizens” (121). This is precisely the purpose of government — to promote right order and peace. We can’t just dispense with politics because, “the fact that humans find their fulfillment in political community means that situating their own good with the good of the community as a whole is central to happiness” (125). We are not isolated individuals and can’t attain a good and complete life on our own.  

Our ultimate good, however, is God, not the political life. Everything — all of our choices, including economic and political ones — must be directed to our ultimate goal. There are not “two ends to human existence, the earthly and the heavenly … [T]here is only one end, the beatific vision” (162). In this way the Church informs our citizenship. Krom explains “how inadequate this human law is as a teacher in the virtues, for it is limited in scope to the prevention of those vices from which even the wicked can refrain, and thus leaves those who seek after perfect virtue to their own devices … [H]uman law is in need of a higher law to truly bring about a just community” (155). Unfortunately, we’re seeing that our society is no longer even trying to prevent serious vice. Catholics and all believers have an important role to play, because “the lack of religion in the citizenry leads it down the path of totalitarianism. It Is absolutely critical that a people maintain a strong commitment to a transcendent measure of the common good in order to protect the true flourishing of its members” (171). Krom’s important work on justice and charity can teach us how a Catholic can exercise a proper patriotism, a true love of country.