Pastor’s Letter 7.2.17

Dear Friends,

In preparation for our celebration of our country’s independence on July 4th, I thought I would give you some
reflections from the Catholic Bishops of the United States on the issue of religious liberty:

“Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about
whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith
calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith? Without religious liberty properly understood, all
Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and
social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas.

What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society—or whether the
state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it. Religious believers
are part of American civil society, which includes neighbors helping each other, community associations, fraternal
service clubs, sports leagues, and youth groups. All these Americans make their contribution to our common life, and
they do not need the permission of the government to do so. Restrictions on religious liberty are an attack on civil
society and the American genius for voluntary associations…

Our nation’s founders embraced freedom of religion as an essential condition of a free and democratic society. James
Madison, often called the Father of the Constitution, described conscience as “the most sacred of all property.” He
wrote that “the Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the
right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.” George Washington wrote that “the establishment of Civil and
Religious Liberty was the Motive that induced me to the field of battle.” Thomas Jefferson assured the Ursuline
Sisters—who had been serving a mostly non-Catholic population by running a hospital, an orphanage, and schools in
Louisiana since 1727—that the principles of the Constitution were a “sure guarantee” that their ministry would be
free “to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority.”

It is therefore fitting that when the Bill of Rights was ratified, religious freedom had the distinction of being the First
Amendment. Religious liberty is indeed the first liberty. The First Amendment guarantees that “Congress shall make
no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Recently, in a unanimous Supreme Court judgment affirming the importance of that first freedom, the Chief Justice of
the United States explained that religious liberty is not just the first freedom for Americans; rather it is the first in the
history of democratic freedom, tracing its origins back the first clauses of the Magna Carta of 1215 and beyond. In a
telling example, Chief Justice Roberts illustrated our history of religious liberty in light of a Catholic issue decided
upon by James Madison, who guided the Bill of Rights through Congress and is known as the architect of the First

In 1806 John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States, solicited the Executive’s opinion on who should be
appointed to direct the affairs of the Catholic Church in the territory newly acquired by the Louisiana Purchase. After
consulting with President Jefferson, then-Secretary of State James Madison responded that the selection of church
“functionaries” was an “entirely ecclesiastical” matter left to the Church’s own judgment. The “scrupulous policy of
the Constitution in guarding against a political interference with religious affairs,” Madison explained, prevented the
Government from rendering an opinion on the “selection of ecclesiastical individuals.”

That is our American heritage, our most cherished freedom. It is the first freedom because if we are not free in our
conscience and our practice of religion, all other freedoms are fragile. If citizens are not free in their own consciences,
how can they be free in relation to others, or to the state? If our obligations and duties to God are impeded, or even
worse, contradicted by the government, then we can no longer claim to be a land of the free, and a beacon of hope
for the world.”

Enjoy your holiday and our freedom!

Fr. Damian

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