Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Choose

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on March 6, 2015

For the past two weekends, I’ve been in a seminary just outside the Center City district of Philadelphia. I’d joined volunteers wanting to be part of the welcome committee for Pope Francis (and the media hordes that will accompany him) when he visits the “City of Brotherly Love” in the fall.

He’s coming to join the World Meeting of Families being held at the convention center here. I can’t tell you how excited Philadelphia Catholics are about his visit. It’s no surprise, of course. Pope Francis has been riding a wave of approval from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, even as he shakes up the Church’s standard way of doing things.

But the volunteers’ excitement doesn’t stem from the pope’s popularity. It comes from the opportunities his visit represents — for renewal, for a welcoming, not just to him, but to all who have been hurt by or felt isolated from the Church. This visit comes at a time when American Catholics have had their beliefs challenged by the Obama administration, which seems bent on punishing companies and groups that object on grounds of conscience to abortion, birth control or other highly charged matters.

But what if we, as a society, focused on God’s love and our duty to each other as humans? What a country that would be, if we truly respected religious freedom and the conscience rights of others, and helped those who provide valuable services and seek to better their communities and the world while they are in it.

We are still free to share and chose. Shouldn’t we all want the best choices to rise to the surface, for the good of all?

It’s this backdrop to keep in mind as a controversy flares in San Francisco. Writing to the Catholic archbishop there, lawmakers insist that the morality clauses in a new handbook for Catholic high-school teachers, introduced during contract negotiations and in keeping with Catholic teaching and practice, “conflict with settled areas of law and foment a discriminatory environment in the communities we serve.”

The lawmakers insist that for the archdiocese to operate within the guidelines of a Catholic conscience — that is, to exercise freedom of religion — is, in fact, a civil rights violation.

The phrase “freedom to choose” comes up in the letter. The choice in today’s West only goes so far. It’s become a pledge of allegiance to an ideological prescription, one of a secular religion that insists on toleration only if you agree to its principles, which don’t include freedom of religion and speech so much as freedom to keep religion to yourself and for the occasional ceremonial function and speech, so long as it meets with popular agreement.

What Pope Francis has managed to do, however, is keep people interested, even as he spends over a year getting the Church to focus on family life.

The World Meeting is, among other things, a celebration of and show of support for families. The people I’ve been meeting in Philadelphia have found joy in Church teaching, and want to share this joy with others. It can be a demanding, challenging joy even in a receptive society, one that requires hard work and sacrifice, and has no room for modern convenience.

For his part, Pope Francis has on more than one occasion emphasized the need for politeness and gratitude, when relating to other people, spouses or oneself. You start there and see a path for peace. You start there and there might just be an opening to get beyond threatening letters, coercive mandates and frequently miserable politics.

 

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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