On March 1st Archbishop Charles J. Chaput addressed the issue of religious freedom during a speech given at a Georgetown University conference sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. As a commissioner for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from 2003-2006, Chaput examined the history of religious freedom in the United States as well as its importance. Also, he expressed his concern regarding America’s inaction in promoting religious freedom practices internationally. Chaput’s criticism of U.S. inaction echoes a concern similar to that addressed in our recent article “President Obama Appoints An Ambassador For Religious Freedom.”
Throughout his speech, Chaput praised America’s religious freedom model. This religious freedom model has been in place in America since its formation and is addressed in the Constitution. As reported by Kevin Jones of EWTN News, the Archbishop said the American model of religious freedom is a Christian vision of man, government and God. Chaput then clarified that he was not saying America was a Christian nation or that Protestant heritage is uniformly good, however the American model has provided a free, open and non-sectarian society. He believes the American model of religion in society should be adapted internationally because “it touches upon universal desires for freedom and dignity” which are “inherent to all of us.” Chaput also commented, “We need to insist that religious freedom – a person’s right to freely worship, preach, teach and practice what he or she believes, including the right to freely change or end one’s religious beliefs under the protection of the law – is a foundation stone of human dignity.”
Helping to create the fabric of our society, many American’s believe religious freedom successfully allows individuals of differing faiths to live together harmoniously in a secular society. Despite its apparent success, many governments abroad do not share this same viewpoint. This differing belief is described by John Couretas’s recent article which states “Principles that Americans find self-evident — the dignity of the human person, the sanctity of conscience, the separation of political and sacred authority, the distinction between secular and religious law, the idea of a civil society pre-existing and distinct from the state — are not widely shared elsewhere.” Citing a 2009 Pew Forum report, Chaput stated “Nearly 70 percent of the world’s people now live in nations — regrettably, many of them Muslim-majority countries, as well as China and North Korea — where religious freedom is gravely restricted.” Pope Benedict XVI also recently expressed his concern over the frequency of “persecution, discrimination, terrible acts of violence and religious intolerance” around the world during his speech at the World Day of Peace.
A focal point of Chaput’s speech was his encouragement of promoting American’s religious freedom philosophies abroad. He also criticized current U.S. leadership for not taking action in this matter. As movements in favor of democracy have recently occurred in the Middle East and North Africa, it is important that America encourages the adoption of religious freedom policies internationally. As reported by CatholicCulture.org, Chaput stated “This is regrettable because we urgently need an honest discussion on the relationship between Islam and the assumptions of the modern democratic state. In diplomacy and in interreligious dialogue we need to encourage an Islamic public theology that is both faithful to Muslim traditions and also open to liberal norms. Sharia law is not a solution. Christians living under sharia uniformly experience it as offensive, discriminatory and a grave violation of their human dignity.”
Although many feel religious freedom is an important right of any human, others do not feel it is America’s place to push their ideas on other societies, especially since the models used in these other countries have been in place for much of history. Given the recent protests abroad, it is likely this topic will be discussed in further detail. Do you believe the American model of religious freedom should be encouraged internationally? Will any of the countries currently experiencing unrest adopt a religious freedom model similar to America’s?
Filed Under: Religious Liberty