ROME, Italy — Religious freedom is a necessary prerequisite for anyone to choose a religion, said G. Marcus Cole, dean of Notre Dame Law School and founder of the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Initiative.
“The world is also learning that this is an essential prerequisite for political freedom, economic prosperity and human flourishing,” he said.
Welcoming guests to the 2022 Notre Dame Religious Freedom Summit, Cole addressed the summit’s theme, “Dignitatis Humanae” – taken from the declaration of the same name issued by Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965, at the end of the Council. Vatican II.
This document sets out the Catholic Church’s support for religious freedom. “The protection and defense of religious freedom is at the heart of the Catholic faith today,” he said.
President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, delivered the summit’s keynote address — calling for “a worldwide effort to defend and advance the religious liberty of all of God’s children in every nation of the world.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Catholic Archbishop of New York, and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles participated in Notre Dame’s first Religious Liberty Summit in 2021, held on the University’s campus of Notre Dame in Indiana. This year’s summit in Rome underscored the global reach of the Religious Freedom Initiative.
Read more: Delivering historic address in Rome, Italy, President Oaks calls for global effort to “defend and advance” religious freedom
During his address in Rome, Cole said the founders of the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Initiative envisioned it as a comprehensive approach to preserve, protect, restore and defend religious liberty in the United States and around the world. “Although we come from many different religious traditions, and some from none, we are all here today because we share the fundamental belief that freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are essential to human flourishing. Indeed, these are basic human rights.
Since the initiative’s inception three years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed just how vulnerable religious freedom really is — and how unappreciated it is by those in power, Cole said. “We have seen that when fear and panic strike the general population, believers are often the first to suffer from repressive government restrictions. Worse still, believers are often the scapegoats of epidemics. »
But “the fog of the pandemic” is lifting, he said, noting that in recent months in the United States, landmark court decisions at all levels have overturned restrictions that discriminate against people of faith. and religious practices.
“We have seen the United States Supreme Court rule decisively in favor of neutrality when religious groups have sought to participate with secular groups in protests over public property. We also saw the lawsuit with a public school employee who simply wanted to exercise his right to pray after a public event. And we heard the court ruling in favor of faith-based families who were denied public educational benefits simply because they wanted their children to attend faith-based schools.
Yet, he said, there is still a lot of work to be done.
“There’s a reason why cases involving religious liberty have risen to prominence in the Supreme Court’s docket. That’s because assaults on religious liberty have become so common in American life.
Religious liberty advocates also cannot lose sight of what is happening in the rest of the world. “Darkness attempts to envelop the earth and crush religious freedom where it is most needed.”
For example, he said, a movement called the Abidjan Principles “has the purported goal of forcing religious schools in developing communities to conform to public education standards. The practical effect, however, is to eliminate religion in schools, including religious educators.
Moreover, he said, “there are still 13 countries in the world where being an atheist is a crime punishable by death. This penalty – death – also awaits those convicted of blasphemy laws. Persecution of Catholics and Christians around the world continues. Churches are burned and believers are beheaded.
Cole noted that the purpose of the Notre Dame Religious Freedom Summit is threefold.
- First, to connect those engaged in the struggle for religious freedom, to share work, encouragement and support.
- Second, to leverage the global footprint of the University of Notre Dame, to highlight the global nature of this fight for religious freedom.
- Third, formulate and coordinate a strategy to build an effective bulwark against those who threaten religious freedom.
Referring to Rome – the host city of the Religious Freedom Summit – Cole spoke of the ruins of the Roman Empire that still stand in the city.
“The ancient great Roman Empire was overthrown – conquered – by an idea,” he said. “That idea was a faith.”
Cole said, just as some today laugh at efforts to preserve, protect, restore and defend religious freedom, the Romans once laughed at a faith.
“So the enemies of religious freedom may laugh at us now, but we’re not going away,” he said. “We will continue to fight for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion until they are enjoyed by all.”