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Archbishop Chaput Cuts Through the Double Talk About Religious Liberty

By Deal W. Hudson
June 15th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Philadelphia's Archbishop Chaput has long been known for his candor, but his May 24 column is particularly refreshing.  I direct your attention to the following sentence: "Anyone who thinks that our country's neuralgic sexuality issues can somehow be worked out respectfully in the public square in the years ahead, without a parallel and vigorous defense of religious freedom, had better think again." In other words, mere words are not going to be enough to retain our right to, and our nation's heritage of, religious liberty. 

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Philadelphia's Archbishop Chaput has long been known for his candor, but his May 24 column is particularly refreshing.  I direct your attention to the following sentence:

"Anyone who thinks that our country's neuralgic sexuality issues can somehow be worked out respectfully in the public square in the years ahead, without a parallel and vigorous defense of religious freedom, had better think again."

In other words, mere words are not going to be enough to retain our right to, and our nation's heritage of, religious liberty. 

The 2012 presidential election was, if nothing else, a national referendum on religious liberty. Unless people were determined to know nothing about national affairs prior to casting their votes, the issue of the HHS mandate -- a fundamental violation of religious liberty -- was widely known. Some Catholic voters were alarmed, and voted accordingly, but not nearly enough to cause a difference in outcome. 

Blame? There's plenty to go around. But finger-pointing at this moment in time is useless and a waste of time. It's just as useless as another eloquent column written in defense of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution and the discriminatory targeting of conservative, pro-life, pro-marriage groups by the IRS.  

Archbishop Chaput points out that these violations are not isolated instances:

"Coupled with the White House's refusal to uphold the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and its astonishing disregard for the unique nature of religious freedom displayed by its arguments in a 9-0 defeat in the 2012 Hosanna-Tabor Supreme Court decision, the HHS mandate can only be understood as a form of coercion."

What exactly does the Archbishop mean when he says these issues will not be "worked out respectfully in the public square in the years ahead"? He means that Catholics and all people of faith must embrace a new paradigm of evangelizing the culture. The paradigm of exerting influence by making arguments in the public square, first exemplified by the late Father Richard Neuhaus, must be supplemented by a paradigm of activism

Activism can take many forms, from filing law suits and investigative reporting to public demonstrations, TV/radio messaging, and grassroots political action. But the bottom line is this: the threat to religious liberty, to our families, and our national heritage cannot be conducted from an arm chair. Those pundits who spend day after day in front of a computer, questioning the moral and theological purity of those who are actually making a difference by being "out on the street," need to think less and act more. To be brutally honest, what they are saying about the culture wars has been repeated ad nauseam for decades.

Archbishop Chaput's column is entitled "Religious Freedom and The Need to Wake Up." He could have also added "To Get Up" out of those comfortable chairs where the world looks so simple, so black and white.  Will we "sleep through the national discussion of religious liberty" the Archbishop warns against?  Are we another generation of "sleepwalkers" who led to the holocausts of the first two world wars? (It's time to rediscover Herman Broch's great 1931 novel The Sleepwalkers with its narrative description of the disintegration of values leading to WWII).

Catholics who call themselves "conservative," "orthodox," or "pro-life" are often heroic, tireless, and generous, but many suffer from a common ailment: They talk too much and when they talk they say the same thing over and over again.  It's called "preaching to the choir." 

There is no one simple solution to Archbishop Chaput's rallying cry: There are a myriad of activist opportunities begging for bodies and support, from the Susan B. Anthony List and the Alliance for Marriage to Live Action and the Alliance Defending Freedom.  No doubt more organizations and new leadership will be jumping into the breach.

Please become one of those who are acting in the public square in defense of the Church and our nation. Otherwise, we will wake up one day in the future, and what we considered could have never happened in our nation will be a fait accompli. (I deliberately use the French for "accomplished fact" because the French never believed that Hitler would occupy their beloved Paris.)

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Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D, is president of the Pennsylvania Catholics Network and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine. He is the Senior Correspondent for Church and Culture and a contributing writer for Catholic Online.

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