The connection between marriage and religious freedom

| Father Dan Griffith | April 26, 2012 | 0 Comments

Even critics of Pope Benedict XVI, concede that our current pope is a keen observer of culture. In addition, Vatican reporter John Allen has noted that Benedict’s thoughtful and incisive critique of contemporary culture is a clear strength of his papacy.

With this in mind, it should be noted that as American bishops arrived in Rome for their “ad limina” visits (visits made by bishops to Rome every five years) Pope Benedict XVI formally addressed two issues that he sees as fundamental to the health and vibrancy of the United States: marriage and religious freedom.

In addressing bishops from Minnesota and the Dakotas, the Holy Father said the following: “In our previous meetings I acknowledged our concern about threats to freedom of conscience, religion and worship. . . . I would like to discuss another ­serious issue which you raised with me during my pastoral visit to America, name­ly, the contemporary crisis of marriage and the family and, more generally, of the Christian vision of human sexuality.”

Both of these important issues have been in the news of late, with the Minnesota marriage amendment coming before voters in November and with the vigorous response by Catholics and other people of faith in the wake of the Health and Human Services mandate.

It is apparent that as our society becomes more secular and in some cases more hostile to religion and religious influence, the very foundations of a healthy society — traditionally fostered and strengthened by religion — have come under attack.

I would argue that our concern for marriage and religious freedom is not just a matter of faith, but should be a concern for all Americans.

Reason and history attest to the truth that marriage, family and freedom are the bedrock of a flourishing society. If we allow these foundational pillars to be weakened, we place in jeopardy the very health and future of our great nation. This is no time for apathy — too much is at stake.

In examining these two issues, I would note the numerous connection points between marriage and religious freedom.

First, from a Catholic perspective, both marriage and freedom are gifts given by our loving God for the good of humanity.

Second, as rights given by God, both marriage and religious freedom exist prior to the state. In other words, they are not simply privileges that the government grants and thus can take away at will.

Third, marriage and religious freedom are so vital because they involve the very constitutive dimension of the human person. Marriage allows for spouses to become co-creators with God in bringing forth life. Religious freedom allows humanity to pursue truth aided by grace and directs humanity to our origin, meaning and destiny.

Fourth, marriage and religious freedom flow from the dignity of the human person and contribute positively to the common good.

Finally, and not least in importance, many respected legal scholars have noted that one of the most significant effects of the re-definition of marriage will be the diminution of religious freedom.

You can make a difference

With so much at stake, what can Catholics do in defense of the God-given institution of marriage and the gift of religious freedom?

  • We should respond with consistent prayer to God to help us preserve these gifts. We know by faith that both prayer and fasting are efficacious. Specifically, we can pray for the courage to stand resolute in our defense of marriage and religious freedom.
  • As Christians we must commit to speak all words and to undertake all action with a spirit of charity. As we engage in discussion, debate and dialogue our tone must always be one of love and respect.
  • We can get involved as citizens and can become better informed regarding these important issues. For example, voting for the Minnesota marriage amendment is a concrete way to support marriage and help preserve religious freedom.

We can also take part in the upcoming “fortnight for freedom” that the bishops have called all Catholics to observe this summer. This fortnight will provide Catholics the opportunity to become better educated and more united regarding the important issue of religious freedom.

  • Finally, we best support these important foundations by committing to build holy marriages and families and by living lives according to authentic freedom, consistent with truth and God’s will. Our Christian witness in this area not only positively contributes to the good of our society, but also strengthens the credibility of the church’s voice in America

Father Daniel Griffith, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, is a faculty fellow of law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and a fellow in the Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy.

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