USCCB News Release
March 2, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Catholics, Mormons Stand as One for Religious Liberty, States Cardinal George in Salt Lake City Speech
Religious freedom means action in the public square, says Cardinal George
Expansion of abortion, gay rights threaten religious freedom
Catholics, Mormons, other defenders of conscience must unite for religious liberty
SALT LAKE CITY—Catholics and Mormons stand as one in defense of religious liberty, said Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
He spoke February 23, in Salt Lake City in an address titled “Catholics and Latter-day Saints: Partners in the Defense of Religious Freedom,” at Brigham Young University. The address can be found at www.usccb.org/seia/catholics-latter-day-saints.pdf
The concept of religious freedom shared by Catholics and Mormons “cannot be reduced to freedom of worship or even freedom of private conscience,” he said.
“Religious freedom means that religious groups as well as religious individuals have a right to exercise their influence in the public square, and that any attempt to reduce that fuller sense of religious freedom, which has been part of our history in this country for more than two centuries, to a private reality of worship and individual conscience as long as you don’t make anybody else unhappy, is not in our tradition,” he said.
Churches and other religious bodies prosper “in a social order that respects religious freedom and recognizes that civil government should never stand between the consciences and the religious practice of its citizens and Almighty God,” he said.
“The founding Fathers understood when they amended the Constitution that the separation of church and state springs from a concept of limited government and favors a public role for churches and other religious bodies in promoting the civic virtues that are vitally necessary in a well‑functioning democracy,” he said.
He highlighted “threats to religious freedom in America that are new to our history and to our tradition.”
“Threats to conscience in healthcare have become prominent recently, particularly in the context of our discussion about health care reform legislation,” he said.
“Once Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, some advocates for abortion would interpret that decision even more broadly than it was drawn, in a way that would threaten the consciences of Catholic and other healthcare workers and institutions. Specifically, they argued, Roe did not merely declare a right to have the government not interfere with a woman’s privacy, but also the right to have the government positively assist in a woman’s having an abortion—whether by government’s funding the abortion, and therefore using our money in such a way that we all become complicit in what we regard as a morally heinous act, or by government’s inducing or compelling others to provide the abortion. If the civil law were to impose such pressures and duties to assist in provision of abortion and other immoral procedures, then freedom of conscience would be directly threatened.”
Congress passed the Church, Hyde and Weldon Amendments to protect individuals and institutions from being forced to violate their principles, he said.
“All these are still in place, but what’s in question now is how they will survive the present healthcare debate. In that debate, the Catholic bishops have tried to play a role as a moral voice, not as politicians.”
“In the realm of moral principle,” he added, “the bishops have stressed two points: first, that everyone should be taken care of. We need health care reform. There are pregnant women who don’t have the prenatal care they should have; there are people with preexisting health conditions who cannot get insurance; there are too many gaps in our care and too many people aren’t being taken care of by the government or by hospitals or by private philanthropy,” he said. “The second moral point is that no one should be deliberately killed. Health care doesn’t include euthanasia and doesn’t include abortion; those are killings, not treatments.”
Gay rights and the call for same‑sex marriage pose another threat to religious liberty. Again, with the LDS church, Catholics hold that every person is made in God’s image and likeness, Cardinal George said.
“Every single person, no matter their sexual orientation, must be respected as an individual; everyone must be loved because they’re loved by God. Loving someone, however, doesn’t mean that one approves of everything they do,” Cardinal George said.
“With the advocates of same‑sex ‘marriage’ legislation, we can expect a one-two punch from hostile governments, whether locally or perhaps federally,” he said. “We will see, first, attempts to compel traditional religious organizations to afford same‑sex, civilly married couples the same special solicitude that they afford actually married couples, whether in the provision of employment benefits, adoption services, or any of a number of other areas where religious groups operate in the broader society and where rights hinge on whether or not one is civilly married. If this first wave is successfully resisted, there will be a second series of government punishments for that persistence. We will lose state or local government contracts, tax exemptions, anything else that could be characterized as a ‘subsidy’ for our discrimination.’”
“Catholics and Mormons stand with one another and with other defenders of conscience,” he said, and “can and should stand as one in the defense of religious liberty.”
Collaborative efforts may include, he said, “common statements and court testimonies demonstrating principles that are consonant with our religious beliefs, even as they are expressed in the language of law and human reason.”
“If this continues to be our shared calling, one to which we invite others, then we will defend religious liberty first of all for the good of law itself, knowing that good law protects everyone’s rights, no matter how feeble they might be. That’s the purpose of law: to defend those who otherwise could not defend themselves. We will be together in this struggle for the good of society itself, believing with Alexis de Tocqueville that churches and religious bodies play a crucial role, a mediating role, in fostering a nation’s civic life. Finally, we will work together because it is for the good of the people whom we shepherd in our own communities, Mormons and Catholics who take pride in our citizenship as Americans and in our legacy of service to the nation, and who continue to claim full citizenship in this pluralistic country," he said.
He spoke of Catholics’ and Mormons’ early history in America.
“Religious conviction combined with America’s founding vision of religious liberty and justice for all was what sustained our people in a hostile environment and eventually enabled them to emerge from their enclaves to make a very great and significant contribution to the political and cultural life of our nation,” he said. “It is therefore true especially of our two groups, the Latter-day Saints and the Catholic Church, that the defense of religious liberty affirms what is deepest in our self-identity.”
Keywords: religious freedom, Cardinal Francis George, Alexis de Tocqueville, abortion, same-sex marriage, Catholics, Mormons, latter-day Saints, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, religious liberty, Constitution, Founding fathers