The United States has always placed freedom of religion among its highest values and most-protected rights, so it seems odd that its largest Christian church felt the need to establish a committee specifically to protect the religious freedoms of believers of all denominations.

Yet, that’s exactly what the Roman Catholic Church, with nearly 60 million members, has done — and it thinks traditional Christians have good reasons to be worried about their ability to practice their faith in today’s political culture.

Catholic leaders and many Protestants, such as Alfred Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (America’s largest Protestant church), express well-founded concerns that religious freedoms are threatened.

Catholics are under fire because they are the largest target (and, because of the abuse scandal, perhaps the most vulnerable one). Yet, other denominations faithful to the Gospel message should realize they have bull’s-eyes on their backs, too.

The cause is an increasingly powerful secularization campaign that gained considerable political clout with the election of Barack Obama as president. The effort springs from deeply entrenched left-wing legal, academic and political sources.

Catholic leaders see the trend in many recent federal and state actions, including efforts to force abortion and the provision of contraceptives into mandatory health insurance coverage and into services provided by the church to migrants and refugees here and AIDS-prevention programs abroad.

Since Catholics (and many others) view abortion and abortion-inducing contraceptive methods as the destruction of human life, such mandates strike at the heart of their faith.

“It seems that pro-life Catholics such as Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak and the Catholic Health Association’s Sister Carol Keenan — who trusted the administration’s position that abortion was not part of the health care bill — along with Notre Dame’s leadership, have been played by the president,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami said in an op-ed column in the Miami Herald this week.

“His administration is running roughshod over conscience protection provisions long part of the law that find their justification in the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion, a foundational human right.”

Another concern is that laws promoting same-sex marriage are “radically redefining” our culture’s most critical social institution, while failing to protect believers from the loss of employment or even criminal prosecution for obeying the tenets of their faith.

Indeed, efforts to silence believers in the public square and remove religious symbols from view are seen as a campaign to drive expressions of faith back behind closed church doors.

One of the chief weapons is the argument that such symbols and expressions are “offensive” to non-believers. Indeed, there is an attempt at the international level to make “giving offense” about religion a criminal act.

As Mohler recently wrote, “These days, it is the secularists who seem to be most intent on pushing a proposed right never to be offended by confrontation with the Christian Gospel, Christian witness or Christian speech and symbolism. This motivation lies behind the incessant effort to remove all symbols, representations, references and images related to Christianity from the public square. … (B)eing offended does not necessarily involve any real harm, but points instead to the fact that the mere presence of such an argument, image or symbol evokes an emotional response of offendedness.”

Of course, the Constitution’s First Amendment protections exist because religious words and actions are always offensive to some. Inoffensive speech and actions would require no such protection.

Finally, Cardinal Raymond Burke, a prominent U.S. cleric now serving in Rome as the head of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (the Catholic supreme court), thinks persecution may be looming at home.

“Yes, I think we’re well on the way to it,” he told the Catholic News Service this week, pointing to adoption and foster care services, from which the church withdrew — to the detriment of its vulnerable clients — when it was told to abandon its principles.

Things are near the point where the church, “even by announcing her own teaching,” is accused of “engaging in illegal activity, for instance, in its teaching on human sexuality.”

Christians in ostensibly free countries in Europe and even in Canada already have been arrested for proclaiming Christian teachings about marriage. Asked by CNS if he could envision Americans ever being arrested for preaching their faith, Burke replied: “I can see it happening, yes.”

 

M.D. Harmon is a retired journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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