What is all the celebrating about?
Summer has arrived, and so has our nation’s unofficial season of patriotic holidays. From Memorial Day in late May to Flag Day in June and Independence Day in July, and continuing through Labor Day, Columbus Day, and onto Veterans Day in mid-November, national pride seems to explode like fireworks. Accompanying these many holidays is one of our national symbols, a source of patriotism and pride: the flag of the United States of America.
Along their main streets, many towns and cities–assisted by their citizens, civic organizations, chambers of commerce and community churches–proudly unfurl and prominently display the “Stars and Stripes” on everything from private homes to public utility poles, from places of business to houses of worship. Although I didn’t make it home to Fort Kent for the recent Memorial Day weekend, I have little doubt that my father, a veteran of the United States Army, maintained his personal custom of displaying the American flag on the front of our family home. So individually and collectively, these flags are an inspiring reminder of, and source of gratitude for, those who sacrificed to guarantee that we live in a country where our basic human rights and freedoms continue to find a safe haven and a secure home.
Or do they … as evidenced by recent controversies and debates around government-sponsored legislation which raise the specter of compromises to, limits on, and even attacks against religious freedom?
By the time this issue of Harvest magazine has made it into your mailbox, the second annual Fortnight for Freedom will be nearing or have reached completion (June 21 - July 4). This ecumenical and interfaith effort has been called for by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious groups in order to prayerfully raise awareness about threats to religious liberty.
Although I readily admit to having neither the perspective of an historian, the legalese of a lawyer, or the passion of a politician, it is not difficult for me–as I think it isn’t for many Americans–to recognize that religious liberty is a God-given right. Whether one chooses to believe or not is his or her prerogative, but this inherent human right has been proclaimed by our nation’s Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence, enshrined in (or should I say, “guaranteed by”) the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, and protected by countless American soldiers, often at great personal sacrifice, over the centuries. And for that we express our national and personal gratitude.
Or do we … especially if we allow those compromises, limits and attacks against our religious liberty to go unchallenged?
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council reaffirmed this fundamental belief when they voted nearly unanimously to approve the “Declaration on Religious Freedom,” also known as Dignitatis Humanae (On the Dignity of the Human Person), which Pope Paul VI subsequently promulgated on December 7, 1965. The Council Fathers “declare[d] that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all [humans] are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, [so] that no one is forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs…” (no. 2). Furthermore, “the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God” (no. 3).
As Americans, we often find it comforting to wrap ourselves up in “Old Glory” as a way to defend our actions. Isn’t it ironic that many personal behaviors have found the protection of law, often permitted on the basis of “personal choice or conscience”? Yet there are those who would use what “The Red, White and Blue” symbolizes to deny entire churches, synagogues or mosques, as well as their individual members, the right to claim the convictions of their conscience in matters of faith and religious practice.
Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). Just as faith and reason are compatible when serving the search for truth, individual freedoms and the common good are never contradictory whenever human life is preserved and human dignity protected; and finally, faith and patriotism (fidelity to one’s church and loyalty to one’s nation) can be complementary, if religious freedom–including its public expression–is respected as “our first, most cherished liberty” (USCCB).
And is it?
Rev. Msgr. Andrew Dubois
Moderator of the Curia