How Religion Fosters Freedom; Point of View; in a World of Competing Freedoms, Religious Liberty Must Take Precedence; OTHER VIEWS

Article excerpt

Today begins the U.S. Catholic bishops' "Fortnight for Freedom," a two-week period of prayer and social action organized in response to President Barack Obama's contraception mandate. Rallies and prayer vigils for religious liberty are planned in nearly 100 dioceses across America. If the virtual blackout of last month's anti-mandate lawsuits is any indication, though, national media coverage of these events may be scant and tinged with cynicism.

Driving that cynicism is the view that the Catholic bishops and their theologically conservative, morally traditional religious allies in this struggle are the last ones anyone should expect to find fighting for freedom. Freedom, after all, is the rallying cry for nearly every fashionable cause these groups typically oppose, from the "freedom to marry," "freedom to choose" and "freedom to die," to the freedom to watch pornography without restriction and to get birth control and morning-after pills without cost. How could the religious leaders accused most often of trying to restrict personal freedom - in particular, personal sexual freedom - be genuine defenders of liberty?

If freedom is defined merely as the license to do what you like - including reshaping social institutions and laws to maximize individual sexual autonomy - the notion of religious authorities as champions of freedom is indeed a hard sell. But if we take a more expansive view of freedom - one embraced by, say, our Founding Fathers - that notion makes more sense. And it becomes clear why religious liberty deserves its historic place as our "first freedom," one that warrants greater deference than the endlessly proliferating new freedoms currently in vogue.

Religion merits the first and most prominent mention in our First Amendment because America's Founders recognized what too many of its contemporary citizens have forgotten: that religion serves as our best bulwark against a totalitarian state. The transcendent perspective of religion - and, specifically, of the Judeo-Christian tradition that offered theological context for our founding documents - has reminded us from the earliest days of our republic that our rights come from God, not government; that partisan politics and political demagogues do not deserve our highest loyalty; and that laws must respect the inherent dignity of the person, including his freedom of conscience, to be legitimate.

From the abolition movement of the 18th and 19th centuries to the civil-rights movement of the 1960s and the pro-life cause today, religious views and voices have fueled the most powerful social reforms in our nation's history. …

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