April 12, 2019

Editorial

Our faith calls us to uphold religious liberty

Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek; Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.; Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minn.; First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas; Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Penn; and Congregation Shaarey Tefilla in Carmel, Ind.

They are houses of worship in the United States where heinous acts of evil have taken place in recent years, resulting in the loss of lives in several instances and vandalism in others. The tragedies left many of us reeling, wondering what led individuals to do such things. They also resulted in a call for our diverse communities of faith to come together and support one another.

We can add other houses of worship in our nation and around the world in recent weeks that have faced similar situations: A March 15 attack on two mosques in New Zealand during Friday prayer that killed 50 Muslims and injured 50 more. An assailant stabbing a Catholic priest in a Montreal church during Mass on March 22 (Father Claude Grou, the rector of St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, is expected to make a full recovery). A California mosque set on fire and vandalized on March 24 with graffiti referencing the New Zealand attacks.

We again pause and wonder why there is a lack of compassion and understanding for so many of our brothers and sisters here and abroad who practice different faith traditions, and just as important, where the religious liberty that was promised to many of us has gone—especially those of us who reside in the United States.

That question was raised by three chairmen of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) committees and more than 140 other religious leaders who last week called on President Donald J. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and congressional leaders to uphold principles of religious freedom following the latest attacks on people of faith, clergy and houses of worship.

Among those signing the letter were Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Penn., and Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. They are respectively the chairmen of the committees for Religious Liberty, Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and International Justice and Peace.

The signers span a broad spectrum of political views and include Muslim, Jewish, Baptist, mainline Protestant and evangelical leaders as well as academics, former government officials, three former U.S. ambassadors (including two to the Vatican) and heads of faith-based organizations.

In the April 4 letter the leaders wrote, “We are a diverse group of advocates for religious liberty for all. We sometimes differ about what religious freedom requires, but we are united around the bedrock principle of ensuring that all individuals and communities are able to exercise their faith in safety and security. We write to ask you to take action to uphold this principle.”

The group cited words used in a 1790 letter from President George Washington to the members of Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., insisting that the government of the United States must give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” All Americans should be able to “sit in safety under [their] own vine[s] and figtree[s],” with “none to make [them] afraid,” Washington said.

“We ask you to uphold these principles,” the letter writers said. “As governmental leaders, you have a special duty to ensure that your words comport with the spirit of the Constitution and help to unify, strengthen and keep Americans safe.”

The letter also outlined several other principles the group asked the president, vice president and congressional leaders to affirm. They include:

  • Individuals of all faiths and none have equal dignity, worth and rights to religious freedom.
  • A person is not more or less American because of his or her faith.
  • Individuals must be able to exercise their religion without fear for their physical safety.
  • Scapegoating, stereotyping and spreading false information about any person or community, including religious individuals and communities, is unacceptable.
  • Americans should never foment fear about groups based on attributes like religion, race or ethnicity, and they should speak against fear-mongering by others.
  • The civic and religious virtue of humble dialogue with those with whom one disagrees should be encouraged.
  • Leaders should avoid using violent imagery because it can encourage violence.
  • An attack on one religion should be treated as an attack on every faith.

Sadly, these acts of evil show us there is still darkness in the world. Our mission must always be to bring the light of Christ to these circumstances, including in cases where religious liberty is concerned.

As we approach the darkest day in humanity (Good Friday), we also know Easter joy is only a few days away.

May we always shine that light of Christ on our brothers and sisters in need during not only the Easter season but every day—despite our differences.

We are all made in the image and likeness of God. May our lives of faith always reflect that.

—Mike Krokos

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