Religion, not merely private Print
By Bishop William Lori   
Wednesday, 05 October 2011

Contrary to what some think, religion is not merely a private matter between God and oneself.  Rather, it plays an important public role in society in helping to protect the rights of conscience of the people over against the powers of the government.  The Danbury Baptists stated that “the legitimate Power of civil Government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor”. We can take this a step further by asserting, in Father Murray’s words, that religion stands “…between the body politic and the public power, not only limiting the reach of the power over the people, but also mobilizing the moral consensus of the people and bringing it to bear upon the power” (John Courtney Murray, S.J., We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition, p. 202).

One of the ways the Church limits the reach of government into our lives is by amplifying the voice of individual consciences so that it can be heard and respected in the public square.  Thus we join with fellow citizens and believers as a community of faith and reason both to make our voices heard and also to resist encroachments by the governmental power on our consciences. After all, it is not the government which grants liberty of conscience or even guarantees it. Liberty of conscience is a natural right and organized religion mediates between individuals and the government in defending not only the freedom to worship but also the freedom to proclaim publicly one’s beliefs, to act upon them, and to bring them to bear upon the culture at large.  The Church, then, is not merely a voluntary social service organization but rather an established pillar of society with an important public role.


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