On April 1, the Catholic bishops of Indiana posted a joint statement online in response to the heated debate generated by the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, affirming the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens and the need for its protection in law.
The carefully worded statement asserts the basic civil rights of all people, while denouncing discrimination “whether it is for their sexual orientation or for living their religious beliefs.” The statement bears the signatures of the bishops of Indianapolis, Lafayette, Gary, Fort Wayne-South Bend, and Evansville.
The statement reaffirms Catholic teaching that the principle of religious freedom “is rooted in the dignity of the human person” as well as being “one of the most cherished rights in the U.S. Constitution.” The statement also says that “the rights of a person should never be used inappropriately in order to deny the rights of another.”
Saint John Paul II, who died exactly ten years ago on April 2, singled out religious freedom as “the source and synthesis” of human rights, defining it as “the right to live in the truth of one’s faith and in conformity with one’s transcendent dignity as a person.”
In their statement, the Indiana bishops “urge all people of good will to show mutual respect for one another so that the necessary dialogue and discernment can take place to ensure that no one in Indiana will face discrimination.”
They also reiterate that it is “crucial” that religious freedom be protected, citing Pope Francis: “No one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions.”
The bishops end by pledging their support for “safeguarding the rights of people of all faiths to practice their religion without undue burden from the government.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome