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SOME THOUGHTS ON JULY 4, 2015: WHAT ABOUT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM?

Jun 27, 2015

The following is from an interview in the June 28th issue of the National Catholic Register with
Professor Robert George, who was elected Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on June 11th Here are some of the questions in the interview:

What can U.S. citizens do to actually help religious liberty abroad?

What can citizens do? Press their government! The U.S. government has enormous
leverage. Not in all countries — we don’t have much in North Korea — but we do have
leverage with allies such as Saudi Arabia and with important trading partners such as China.
So we need to use that leverage. And the people of the U.S. need to press our political
leadership to use that leverage.

What’s the connection between promoting religious liberty abroad and being able
to maintain and defend it at home?

Here, let me speak personally as a scholar and human-rights activist, not as chairman of the
commission. Under our authorizing statute, we have no authority to intervene in or even
comment on domestic issues.

In my personal opinion, however, the veiy best way we can advance religious freedom
abroad is to honor religious freedom at home. That’s a simple matter of avoiding hypocrisy
and setting a good example for the world.

We — as a people who pride ourselves on respect for freedom and as a nation “conceived in liberty dedicated to the
proposition that all men are created equal” — need to show the world what it means to respect religious freedom and other
fundamental civil liberties, such as the freedom of speech, press and assembly.

How important is the Fortnight for Freedom for making these connections?

I think the fortnight [which runs through July 4] is very important, because American Catholics, like most Americans, are
generally not as aware as we need to be of the threats to religious freedom both at home and abroad. The Fortnight for
Freedom is, above all, an opportunity for informing ourselves and our fellow citizens.

The Church is helping us to be aware of the suffering of persecuted people abroad, not just Catholics and Christians, but
people of all faiths: Buddhists, Bahais, Ahmadiyya and Rohinga Muslims, Yazidis and others. The Church wants us to be
aware of what’s happening in those places and be aware of the erosion of religious-freedom rights here in the U.S. We need
to know the facts about the appalling contraception and abortion-drug mandates that the current administration is still
seeking to insert into the national health-insurance system under the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act.

Similarly, when it comes to the use of anti-discrimination laws to force people to participate in ceremonies and events that
violate their religious beliefs, rights and conscience, we need to know what’s going on, so that we can stand up for freedom
and the rights of conscience.

How does the marriage debate in the United States
impact religious freedom?

Again, I need to speak only in my individual capacity
and ask you to be clear about that. We, the commission,
have no position on these domestic issues.

To me, we need to be deeply concerned about the
erosion of religious freedom as a result of the
redefinition of marriage and the application of anti-
discrimination laws to religious believers and others
who morally object to same-sex sexual partnerships or
their designation as “marriages.” It is happening here,
just as it is happening in Canada and in European
nations. This is a violation of people’s fundamental
rights to act with authenticity and integrity in line with
their consciences, where respect for conscience is
consistent with justice and the common good.

The very basis of the right to freedom of conscience is in
the moral reality that people have a duty to act in line
with their consciences as best they can form them. That
duty is in turn rooted in the values of authenticity and
integrity, especially in matters of faith. Human beings
are damaged, they damage themselves morally, when
they violate their consciences. And that damage is done
whether the act is freely chosen or whether it is
performed under the pressure of culture or law.

We can’t do anything to force people to act in line with
their consciences; laws can’t reach conscience in that
way. But we can ensure that laws don’t impose
themselves unjustly on people’s consciences, forcing
them to act in ways that are inauthentic.

And the Fortnight for Freedom is really lifting that up,
making us more aware that: (a) the values of integrity,
especially in matters of faith, are essential to human
flourishing, and (b) people do have a moral obligation to
form their consciences properly and then to act in line
w ith their consciences.

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