Advancing religious freedom is not just cause for believers, says cardinal

By Catholic News Service

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York is seen in this 2017 file photo. CNS photo/Bob Roller

WASHINGTON (CNS) – While it helps for him to be "a believer, a Catholic" to defend religious freedom, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said there are many good secular reasons to assert the right to religious liberty.

"I'm passionately involved in the advocacy for religious freedom," Cardinal Dolan said, "because I'm a rational human being and a committed American citizen."

His advocacy, he added, is "driven by my belief that it is necessary for the protection of human dignity and for the flourishing of an enlightened common good."

Speaking July 15 at the closing dinner of the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, Cardinal Dolan noted, "As James Madison put it, 'The transcendent laws of nature and of nature's God' tell me this first of the four freedoms is natural, rational and critical to the human rights tradition.’”

"Religious liberty is now rightly regarded as a human-rights issue, not merely a creedal concern," added the prelate, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty.

The distinction is important, Cardinal Dolan said. "Our enemies – and their name is legion – dismiss us as self-protecting, self-serving fanatics who simply want to protect our narrow privileges and rights while suffocating enlightened progress; it's also essential because of the shrinking of the clout of religion in the public square."

He said, "Our own government, while from the time of George Washington has seen the guarantee of religious freedom as a domestic priority and from the time at least of Woodrow Wilson as an international one, has now come to a heightened appreciation of how global affairs must often be understood through the lens of faith and reason.

"As our government grows in its sensitivity to the faith dimension in international discourse, so will it in its recognition that protection of religious freedom is a crucial component of our foreign policy -- and, I might add, domestic," Cardinal Dolan said.

"Religion can inspire, encourage and foster hope in a world often thought desperate is a cause of optimism for us, as it keeps religion, and the insurance of its liberty, at the top of our agenda," he said.

He pointed to words of Pope Benedict XVI, in speaking before the United Nations: "If religious freedom erodes, gone is the guarantee of all our other liberties."

Over 40 organizations joined in convening the July 13-15 International Religious Freedom Summit, held in person in the nation's capital and online. It featured prominent religious leaders and religious-freedom advocates in a series of speeches, discussions and programs focusing on the vital need to protect religious freedom globally.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace was among the summit's sponsors.