Photo: Butch Lahmann of St. Joseph Parish, Kings Park, and fellow participants at a religious freedom rally at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip in 2013, sing the national anthem. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
By Ryan Thomas
PHOENIX/EWTN News –As domestic religious freedom threats reach unprecedented levels, the lay faithful must play an active role in promoting and defending religious liberty, said speakers at a recent conference.
“Religious freedom is under legal assault as never before, in 238 years as a nation, in ways that are chilling and unimaginable,” said Alan Sears, president of Alliance Defending Freedom and expert in legal issues regarding religious liberty.
Sears spoke at the 8th annual Catholics in the Public Square event, held Sept. 6 in Phoenix, Ariz.
The gathering convoked hundreds of lay Catholics and leading religious freedom experts to discuss and reflect upon current threats to religious liberty in the United States and the need for lay faithful to respond in the public square.
Sears underlined the growing threats against the right of conscience, seen in increasing government regulation, fear campaigns, and mounting legal attacks.
He referenced some 50 concrete cases in which the right to conscience has been attacked both legally and economically in the United States. Despite legal victories in all but one of these cases, Sears said that the Alliance Defending Freedom is seeing an increase in such abuses and attacks.
However, he also discussed positive trends, noting five wins on free speech and religious liberty at the Supreme Court during the most recent term.
“Some of these were 9-0 victories,” he added.
Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, also spoke at the gathering with comments about the many important victories for religious freedom that have occurred in Arizona over the last several years.
Johnson highlighted the important role that lay Catholics played in passing the 2008 Constitutional Amendment to define marriage between one man and one woman.
“Month by month, after the (Catholics in the Public Square) seminar, we saw a 40 percent movement in favor of marriage,” he said. “That was just a tremendous success that we had that started from this event.”
Maggie Gallagher, senior fellow of the American Principles Project and co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, focused her talk on the national discourse promoting “gay marriage” and its threat to religious freedom.
“Marriage is a universal, human, social institution and exists in virtually every known human society,” Gallagher said. Nevertheless, Americans are being asked to “accept the basic untruth” that “gay marriage” and traditional marriage are the same thing.
“We are seeing an unprecedented effort to enact their world point of view. You are like a racist if you oppose gay marriage, and the tools that are available both in government and in applied society to oppress racism are now going to be directed at people who stand with the Catholic faith.”
Editors Note: For information on religious freedom issues and upcoming related events in the Rockville Centre diocese, visit the website for Catholics For Freedom of Religion http://www.catholicsforfreedomofreligion.org/ and check our calendar of events.