September 22, 2015
Washington, DC(CNS)—Threats to religious liberty, both foreign and domestic, were the subject of a Sept. 18 summit at The Catholic University of America, Washington.
"The consistent narrowing of freedom of religion is appalling," said Daniel Ian Mark, a member of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom. He added, "Religious freedom has become a partisan issue in the United States. It shouldn't be. ... We want to have a bipartisan consensus like the one that created the commission."
Mark painted a dark picture of the international outlook for religious liberty.
"ISIS seems to be shooting for the record books for barbarism," he said of the Islamic State. "The scope of this is just absolutely appalling."
Moreover, he said, "We don't seem to be well equipped to deal with this. Traditionally, we deal with states. This is a non-state actor. We can't designate ISIS a 'country of particular concern,'" State Department parlance for nations with bad human rights records, "because it's not a country."
Worldwide, Mark said, 75% of the globe's population is living in countries where religious rights have grown more restrictive in recent years. He added such restrictions are not limited to Muslim-majority nations, but European countries as well, citing a rise in anti-Semitism in France, as well as the continent's current struggle to "absorb the waves of immigrants washing up at their doorstep."
Such situations, according to Mark, breed "oppression in the name of stability." He said the reverse is true: "Stability is not the solution. Freedom is the solution."
John Haldane, the J. Newton Rayzor Sr. distinguished professor in philosophy at Baylor University in Waco—a co-sponsor of the summit along with Catholic University and the Religious Freedom Project of Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs—posed the theory that advocates can be "victims of their own dogmatism." The "all-or-nothing" approach that "it's going to be the end of civilization" if their position is not adopted can delude those very same advocates, he said.
Haldane, a British-born Scot, said the tide may have turned in the United States on the institution of marriage "with the adoption of no-fault civil divorce," which he said "changed the view of marriage."
He recalled, "I was at Georgetown when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke." Those who were advocating the impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton for lying in a deposition about his affair with Lewinsky were expecting that "people would surround the White House with pitchforks." Instead, "they shrugged and walked away," he added.
At those remarks, sitting up straight in his seat and folding his arms was Baylor President Ken Starr, who was scheduled to speak later in the day. He was the independent counsel not only for the Lewinsky scandal, but Whitewater and three other investigations during the Clinton presidency. Starr stared at Haldane for a half-minute before returning to jotting down notes.
Mark Rienzi, an associate professor at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law, voiced optimism that, as same-sex marriage is accepted in American law, accommodations will be made for those who oppose it and want nothing to do with it.
"The government allows it, which I think is really, really horrible," Rienzi said, "but you can't force people to participate in it." He added the government is "likely to end up" with a position that "it's OK if my neighbor's different, and I don't need to crush him."
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, in his remarks, used the Second Vatican Council document on religious freedom and human dignity, "Dignitatis Humanae," to address religious liberty both here and abroad.
"In the second section of 'Dignitatis Humanae,' entitled 'Religious Freedom in the Light of Revelation,' the text says that all the Vatican Council's declarations 'regarding man's right to religious freedom have their foundation in the dignity of the human person’—a dignity known by reason and experience, but also a dignity which 'has its roots in divine revelation,'" Archbishop Lori said.
"Human nature has dignity by the very fact that we were created in God's image. When we strayed, God deemed our human nature worth saving and indeed went to the lengths of the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery to do so," he added. "In assuming and redeeming our human nature, the Second Person of the Trinity, the author of our humanity, revealed its inherent dignity a dignity that has survived the onslaught of our epic sinfulness."
Archbishop Lori suggested how that should play out on the world stage.
"At a minimum, the state should avoid all forms of coercion in religious matters," Archbishop Lori said. "This painfully calls to mind the bloody persecutions such as we see in the Middle East but it also includes, I would imagine, other forms of governmental coercion such as oppressive government regulations, fines and threats to remove (federal) tax exemptions that seek to compel people of faith to compromise their beliefs or to cooperate to one degree or another in matters that violate their beliefs, such as the Health and Human Services contraceptive-abortifacient mandate."