The National Religious Freedom Conference and Me

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As usual, Deacon Greg Kandra has the story, even when it’s about me. 

I attended the National Religious Freedom Conference, which was organized by the American Religious Freedom Program, which is affiliated with the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC. The conference was Thursday.

It was the reason for the trip to Washington that I mentioned in my earlier post lambasting the hapless news commenter who got on the wrong side of my Okie-ism.

If ever there was a reason for doing a back-to-back flight across the country, this conference was it. Except for the basic right to life, there is no human right that transcends our innate right to freedom of conscience and belief. Interfering with an individual’s religious beliefs is tantamount to a form of mind control. It goes to the core of their personhood, of what makes them tick as people.

America, this unique nation which was, as one of the speakers at the conference said, created from an idea, has always held that religion is a matter so intimate that the government may not interfere, either with its existence or with the free exercise of its practices. Freedom of religion is not and never has been freedom from religion.

This is not to say that those who do not believe in any god should have their clear right to their disbelief meddled with. Not at all. Each of us has the right to be wrong in one another’s eyes on questions of faith. 

The troubling trend in this country by certain groups to attack and limit the freedoms of religious people has gone on unchallenged for far too long. It is time that people of faith insist that, whatever social changes may come down the road, none of them should trample other people’s rights to freedom of religion and faith. 

There is much more at stake in this than my religious belief or your religious belief, or even your unbelief. What is at stake is the essential idea on which America was founded and on which all American freedoms exist. That is the idea that all human beings are created equal and that every single one of us has worth. Religious freedom, freedom of conscience, are the wellhead of how this idea is expressed in our government. 

It was no accident that the first freedom America guarantees to individual citizens involves self expression through speech and religious belief. If you can’t believe according to your faith and say what you believe, then there is no freedom at all. 

As a speaker at the conference, I attracted a small amount of attention, some of which resulted in an article by Dennis Sadowski at the Catholic News Service. From what I hear, I also got a shout out of some sort from the 700 Club. 

Needless to say, I’m flattered by this. However, I am much more than flattered to have been part of this conference. I am deeply honored that anyone would think that I had something to contribute to such an august body of thinkers and all-around wonderful people. The American Religious Freedom Program is not designed to replace the efforts of groups like the USCCB or the Southern Baptists in the fight for American religious freedom. It will take a more focused and direct approach which does not involve specific moral issues and which seeks to protect the religious liberty of all faith groups. 

The one and only issue for the National Religious Freedom Conference is religious freedom itself. I think this is a critical approach which has been lacking in the fight for religious liberty up to now. It is a position that no religious group can take, simply because every religious group has specific moral issues on which it must also take positions. 

However, I believe that the freedom of all faiths and faith members to be who we are, with our doctrinal differences intact and fully respected, is something that all faiths can unite around. For instance, as a Catholic, I may not have a problem with eating pork or the social drinking of liquor, but if the government tries to force members of faiths which do have moral teachings against these things to violate their faith, then I will stand with them in the fight. To paraphrase Patrick Henry, I may not agree with what you believe. But I will fight with you to protect your right to believe it. 

Here, from Deacon Greg’s blog, The Deacon’s Bench, is the article from CNS:

Meet a Pro-Life Democrat: Patheos’ Rebecca Hamilton Profiled by CNS

Behold: 

 

 

Oklahoma State Rep. Rebecca Hamilton 

 

sees no conflict between her pro-life views as a Catholic and being a stalwart Democrat who has served 18 years in the state Legislature.

 

 

Hamilton, who represents South Oklahoma City, told Catholic News Service during a break this morning in the 2013 National Religious Freedom Conference

 

 in Washington that her pro-life stance evolved over time after a “powerful religious experience” in the 1980s.

 

It helped, she said, that she became Catholic in 2002.

Hamilton has cemented her pro-life credentials in the Legislature in recent years despite vocal objections from fellow Democrats and other supporters of Democratic politics. She said one labor official told her to keep her beliefs in church and out of the state Legislature when she shepherded one pro-life measure to passage.

All this after Hamilton worked for a stint for the National Abortion Rights Action League in Oklahoma. Back then, she said, she was hardly religious.

These days, in addition to looking out for her district, Hamilton’s focus is on threats to religious freedom that she sees emerging nationwide. She said it will take the Catholic community — a small minority in Oklahoma — working side by side with people of all faiths to be vigilant about legislative attempts to marginalize religious practice and educate the wider community that any threat to religion poses a threat to all.

One of her priorities: helping form a religious freedom caucus with other like-minded legislators to stop incursions on religious practice.

Hamilton was one of four panelists who discussed challenges to religious freedom during a conference session. She told the 150 people in attendance that her fear is that opponents of religion are becoming bolder in their attacks — verbal, through the courts and in state legislatures.

“You dehumanize a group enough, you marginalize a group enough, it becomes easy to do anything to them,” she said.

 

  • CathyLouise

    Rebecca, I started reading your blog a few months ago, and have been fascinated by the fact you’re a Democrate AND a Catholic. Having become disgusted with the party about 20 years ago I switched my affiliation from Democrat to independent. A few years back I thought I should investigate once again the party of my youth, and so I looked into the Democratic party here in California. And there, right there, at the top of their official web page in bold, large print they stated it. Their number one priority, the thing most important to democrats in the state of California: keeping abortion legal and readily available. They obviously would brook no dissent in the ranks. Oh, they’d tolerate it from me of course, as long as I would vote along party lines, but not from those actually holding office. And I thought to myself, “well, they don’t want me, then.” I have other objections to the Republican party that prevent me from registering there (I mean, ROMNEY? The best they could come up with was ROMNEY?!! What are they THINKING?) so I remain independent, but continue to read your blog and find encouragement that the Democrats here in California are not necessarily represtative of the ones in the rest of the country.

    • hamiltonr

      Cathy Louise, I feel your pain.

    • tedseeber

      Most intellectual Catholics who actually accept Church Teaching without cafeteriaism feel your pain, Cathy


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