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Getting Off the Slippery Slope to Religious Persecution

By Joseph J. Klock, (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 26th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Many Catholic, orthodox and Protestant Christians in America have felt that attempts by secular leaders to sideline them have increased significantly in recent years.  Observers have documented at least 58 actions taken by President Obama, his administration, some courts, and military leaders to marginalize or remove the influence of Christians outside of the confines of the walls of their churches.  Political leaders, as well as outspoken members of advocacy groups and even the Supreme Court, have shown disrespect for people of faith by ridiculing or denigrating us - as well as by their actions and by their omissions.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Many Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians in America have felt that attempts by secular leaders to sideline them have increased significantly in recent years. 

Observers have documented at least 58 actions taken by President Obama, his administration, some courts, and military leaders to marginalize or remove the influence of Christians outside of the confines of the walls of their churches.  Political leaders, as well as outspoken members of advocacy groups and even the Supreme Cour,t have shown disrespect for people of faith by ridiculing or denigrating us as well as by their actions, and by their omissions.

Secular leaders who do not share traditional Christian values on life, marriage, and religious freedom have coalesced around artfully crafted common language and goals that equate adherence to traditional, gospel-based values with bigotry, for example by equating opposition to same sex marriage to racism. 

In a very short time they have caused many Catholics and other Christians to question the teaching of their churches and long-held convictions about marriage and family.  Many young Christians discount threats to freedom of religion and speech, falling victim to appeals by liberal secularists for a perverse kind of compassion that leads to supporting inappropriate responses such as abortion and same-sex marriage. 

While articles appear almost daily in the Catholic and other Christian press about freedom of religion, few authors give concrete proposals for how to respond beyond advocating to continue efforts already in progress.  A diverse cross-section of interest groups and government bodies have a common goal to restrict religious freedom in America, limiting freedom of religion to freedom of worship within churches.  They want to redefine marriage and to adopt a social rather than biological meaning of life.  They seem willing to take unprecedented steps to impose their will on everyone.

Over 50 years ago, Archbishop Fulton Sheen described 3 overlapping stages along the slippery slope to religious persecution.  The first stage is disrespect and ridicule, the second is coercion, and the third is persecution.  With so many examples of disrespect, ridicule, and coercion, can persecution be far behind? 

Will America become like France where the government treats people peacefully protesting against same-sex marriage more harshly than some who commit violent crimes?  Will we become like the UK where a street corner preacher was arrested for saying that homosexual acts are sinful and where the Church of England is being sued for declining to perform a same-sex marriage?

Just as secularists have found common ground, like-minded Christians need to speak and act collectively in defense of our freedom of religion based in faith and reason.  Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians can work together with a common message in support of life, marriage, and religious freedom not using disrespect, ridicule, coercion, and persecution but in the way that Jesus teaches us.

We are brothers and sisters of those with whom we disagree and He commands us to love them.  United with one another in charity and communion, we can turn the tide now pushing against us.  Unless we do so, we will continue to lose ground to the forces lined up against us.

In what is by now an oft-quoted remark, Cardinal George of Chicago recently said that he expects to die peacefully in bed, and sees a possibility that his immediate successor will die in prison, and that the next successor will die a martyr. 

Right now this sounds far-fetched and Cardinal George admitted that his conjecture was intended to be provocative but would similar statements have seemed equally far-fetched when the Mexican government enacted anti-clerical provisions in the 1917 constitution, sent the state-sponsored Knights of Guadalupe to close a Catholic Church during a mass, or firebombed the Basilica attempting to destroy the tilma of Guadalupe?

By 1936, at least 40 priests had lost their lives and the number of priests that the government allowed to practice legally had gone from 4500 to 334.  Could an assassination similar to that of Archbishop Romero of El Salvador occur in the US?  What persecutions that seem inconceivable now will seem acceptable to some misguided persons who reject the right of others to hold views different than their own while staunchly defending the same right for themselves?

Persecution of Catholics in America may not reach the point of wholesale murders of priests, ministers, pastors, bishops, and lay people but seeds of more subtle persecution have already begun to take root.  In his September 22, 2011 letter to President Obama in support of the Defense of Marriage Act, Cardinal Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB wrote,

"Our federal government should not be presuming ill intent or moral blindness on the part of the overwhelming majority of its citizens, millions of whom have gone to the polls to directly support DOMAs in their states and have thereby endorsed marriage as the union of man and woman. Nor should a policy disagreement over the meaning of marriage be treated by federal officials as a federal offense-but this will happen if the Justice Department's latest constitutional theory prevails in court. The Administration's failure to change course on this matter will, as the attached analysis indicates, precipitate a national conflict between Church and State of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions."

Yet Justice Kennedy, a Catholic, wrote in his opinion striking down the Defense of Marriage Act that supporters of DOMA are motivated by animus against homosexuals.  In doing so, he repeated views he had expressed in at least two previous opinions.

The push by many liberal secularists to criminalize traditional beliefs about life, marriage, and religious freedom represents a threat, not just to Christians but to the democracy that for over 200 years has protected the rights of all people of faith to the free exercise of religion.  On February 18, 2012, speaking to a group of youth, Cardinal George noted, "We (the Church) were born in an empire (2000 years ago) that accepted all the things that now we (our society) wants to accept.  That empire has been gone for 1700 years." 

The more that liberal secularists ridicule people of faith, the more the coercion will increase, and the more likely it becomes that persecution will follow to the detriment of all people of faith and to the detriment of the country as a whole.

How Do We Get Back on Track?
1.  Pray
  - To begin, we can pray - pray for our church leaders that God guides them as they speak and act in our defense.  Pray for our oppressors asking God and one another to forgive them for their offensive words and coercive behavior. Individual prayer benefits us all but to demonstrate our unity as Christians in support of religious freedom, we need to pray together publicly with others within our own church and with people of other churches.  We should also join in prayer with people of other faiths as Popes John Paul II and Pope Benedict XV1 have done in Assisi since restrictions on religious freedom affect us all. 

For Catholics, the USCCB has inaugurated the annual Fortnight for Freedom from June 21 through July 4 as a time for prayer and education.  They have also encouraged people to pray and fast for religious freedom on Fridays accompanied by educational activities in parishes.  Parishes need volunteers to serve as hosts for these programs, and dioceses need advocates.  Parish volunteers and diocesan leaders need support from pastors and bishops to make the program work.  The USCCB has created a facebook and web pages but it's not clear who has responsibility to promote the efforts. 

Catholics can pray to Mary of the Immaculate Conception, patron of the United States, asking for her intercession, and work for a civilization of love as called for by Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron of the Americas, by bringing together people of various cultures, races, and faith traditions as Mary did at Guadalupe.

2.  Unite - In the Gospel, Jesus gives us a new commandment that encapsulates all others.  He wants us to love God and to love our neighbor.  We are children of one God and as part of one human family, God intended us to live in a united, fraternal, family-like relationship with each other.  Jesus recognized this when he prayed, "May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me." 

Our human failings have kept us from fulfilling Jesus' prayer for our unity.  Our disunity makes it easier for others to divide us, to challenge our long-held beliefs particularly with young people, and makes it far more difficult for us to respond to challenges from those promoting causes inimical to our faith.
 
Resolving all the differences that divide us will not happen overnight but if we can set them aside and concentrate on what we have in common with respect to freedom of religion, we will have a better chance of halting the gains being made towards limiting our freedom.  In the process, we can hope that our mutual respect grows and we begin to present an example to our fellow citizens of the attractiveness of a civilization of gospel-based love.
  
3. Organize - Some religious leaders have come together to organize, strategize, plan, and coordinate their approach to countering the assault on freedom of religion.  For example, the group called Evangelicals and Catholics Together has given religious freedom a priority in their deliberations.  Some members of the same group with others published the Manhattan Declaration in support of life, marriage, and religious freedom. 

Will Evangelicals and Catholics reach out to other Christian denominations to increase their effectiveness?  Will they seek opportunities to partner with leaders of other faiths who share their concerns?  Will they serve the community of believers by developing strategies to prevent and respond to existing or potential persecution, to stop coercive behavior by the government, the courts, schools, military leaders, and non-governmental organizations, and to counter attempts to demonize Christians for their beliefs?  Will someone in each denomination have responsibility for developing a common strategy and leading the effort to put it into operation in sync with other denominations?

4. Act - Through prayer, applying the Golden Rule, and a communion of hearts and minds, the combined leadership can discern what actions to recommend for coordinated implementation.   For example, they might develop guidelines and an approach for tracking and jointly responding to threats against religious freedom at the local, state, and national levels in a manner always consistent with the teachings of the gospel or for non-Christians, consistent with the golden rule that almost all religions share in some form. 

Safeguarding religious freedom will require actions such as letter-writing, articles, expressing opinions, speeches, rallies, demonstrations, educational events, and legal action.   The more diverse the group carrying out and supporting the actions, the more effective they will become.  Periodically, they will need to come together to assess the effectiveness of the strategy and implementation and how to adjust to changes in conditions.

5. Communications - Coordinators need to find ways to increase the frequency and effectiveness of communications on their response to issues regarding religious freedom so that people recognize that we express our concerns out of love and not out of any supposed bigotry.

6.  A More Peaceful Nation - As a by-product of working together for religious freedom, we will progress towards a greater general fraternity among Christians.  If we are effective, those who work to marginalize us will gradually stop their disrespect, ridicule, coercion, and persecution and will learn more constructive attitudes and behaviors. 

Together as Christians and working with people of other faiths, we can learn how to achieve fraternity with those who currently want to restrict our freedoms, working out our differences in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding.  In the process, we will move closer to a world of universal brotherhood and peace that all people of good will desire.

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