Why is religious freedom so vital? The Catholic Church teaches that the right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience is “based on the very nature of the human person, whose dignity enables him freely to assent to the divine truth…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph no. 2106). This freedom must never be coerced, for to do so is to injure human beings in their relationship with God.
But what about sharing our faith publicly when others do not hold our beliefs? These are some words of Pope Francis in a letter he wrote to the Church called Evangelii Gaudium. “A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism. The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions. In the long run, this would feed resentment rather than tolerance and peace.” (paragraph no. 255)
I believe this is a perfect articulation of faith in the public square. In all my years as a Christian, I have never heard more clear teaching on the truths of religious liberty and faith in the public square than I have come to learn in the Catholic Church.
I am so thankful that the Church works to form my conscience, not based on the media, passing fashions, or the moral climate of the day, but on the eternal truths of God. Once again the Church has really done her homework. She has scoured Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the teaching magisterium of the Church to bring us the resources we need to follow Jesus first as we participate in our nation’s political life.
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The Church has clarified for voters the differences between prudential choices and non-negotiable choices. This is incredibly important in all our political activity. For example, it is a Catholic social teaching that we are to give preferential treatment to the poor and to care for our planet. These are truths of our faith. But it must be remembered that how these truths are applied in our society falls under prudential choices—choices using our best wisdom as formed by God’s Word. As a result, there can be Catholics on both sides of issues such as minimum wage legislation or oil drilling, without sinning or compromising our Catholic faith.
However, the Catholic Church has also made it plain that there are five issues that can never be compromised by faithful Catholic citizens. Since these five issues always and everywhere are contrary to the will of God, a Catholic may never, in good conscience and fidelity to Christ, vote to support any of these five issues. The five non-negotiable issues are abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research (Catholics may fully support adult or blood cord stem cell research), cloning, and same-sex marriage. The only exception to this principle is when there are NO candidates on the ballot that are opposed to these issues. Only then may Catholics choose which candidate represents other issues they prudentially believe to be the best.
I know it is not unusual for some Catholics to believe that social justice issues, such as raising the minimum wage or voting for environmental causes, carry the same weight in importance as the five non-negotiable issues. But the Church is absolutely clear on this point. The five non-negotiables outweigh all other voting issues.
I am so thankful that the Catholic Church works to clarify difficult and emotionally charged issues in our country and world. She is the true light and treasure that leads us to faith-filled citizenship.
Melanie Frei was an evangelical Protestant missionary to Hong Kong with her husband Tom, pastor and seminary professor. But when they studied Scripture and Church history, the two of them decided to leave their ministry and enter the Roman Catholic Church. Melanie is the mother of three incredible young adults and three awesome grandchildren and is also a substitute teacher in the Tomah Area School District. Her favorite ministries are leading Bible studies, music and pro-life work. For fun, Melanie is a total fan of BBC dramas and Regency romance.