George Weigel: the Defense of Religious Freedom in Full

George Weigel gave the commencement address at Benedictine College in Kansas.  He called upon the graduates to rise to “the defense of religious freedom in full.”

Weigel discusses what is “religious freedom in full:”

It surely includes freedom of worship, but it must include more than that; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is content with freedom of worship, so long as the Christian worship in question takes place behind closed doors in the American embassy compound in Riyadh. Religious conviction is community-forming, and communities formed by religious conviction must be free, as communities and not simply as individuals, to make arguments and bring influence to bear in public life. If religiously informed moral argument is banned from the American public square, then the public square has become, not only naked, but undemocratic and intolerant.

The freedom to do as Jesus commands in the Gospel is key:

Religious freedom in full also means that communities of religious conviction and conscience must be free to conduct the works of charity in ways that reflect their conscientious convictions.

What about when the state defines “rights” to abortion and “gay marriage,” opposed to our conscience?

What can be said in this context, and what must be said, is that the rights of Catholic physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals are not second-class rights that can be trumped by other rights-claims; and any state that fails to acknowledge those rights of conscience has done grave damage to religious freedom rightly understood. The same can and must be said about any state that drives the Catholic Church out of certain forms of social service because the Church refuses to concede that the state has the competence to declare as “marriage” relationships that are manifestly not marriages.

The defense of religious freedom in full is our lives’ work, and it will be costly.

This work will not be without cost. Some of you may suffer various forms of martyrdom in taking up this cause: the martyrdom of ridicule, of being labeled “intolerant” and “bigoted”; the martyrdom of career paths blocked and promotions denied because of your adherence to the moral truth of things; the martyrdom of political defeat, or a judicial case well-argued but lost. Fidelity to the truth can have its costs.

This address is a breath of fresh air and truth, especially after hearing that Secretary Sebelius has been invited to speak at a Georgetown University ceremony.

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