Catholic League president Bill Donohue warned Wednesday that Christians who live in North America and Europe face an increasingly hostile secularism hidden beneath a cloak of progress and new “rights.”
“If Christians in the Middle East need to fear the machete, Christians in the Western world need to fear the media, higher education, activist organizations and government,” Dr. Donohue writes. “They are the ones advocating, or imposing, a secular agenda on religious institutions.”
Commenting on the newly released 2021 report on Religious Freedom in the World, issued by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Donohue observes that anti-Christian persecution takes two forms in today’s world: the familiar one of violence against people and property, and a second, more subtle form, typically “relying on restrictive measures encoded in public policy and law.”
The ACN report calls the second form “polite persecution,” not because it is any less virulent or ruthless, but because it hides under a veneer of respectability and “enlightened” secularism.
Such non-violent expressions of religious persecution “may not be as immediate or acute, but they can be culturally lethal,” Donohue observes.
Pope Francis is alarmed by a spike in new “rights,” Donohue notes, cultural norms or laws that relegate religion “to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience,” or that narrowly confine them to “the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques.”
“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,” Francis wrote in his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).
“This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism,” the pope continued. “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.”
This is precisely what is happening in our days, Donohue suggests, when Christians are pressured into violating their consciences to make way for a new secular morality.
“Parents who object to classroom instruction that explicitly runs roughshod over their religious beliefs (e.g., sex education) are being summarily ignored by administrators,” Donohue states. “‘Hate crime’ legislation is being used to criminalize the beliefs of those who hold to traditional moral values.”
“Polite persecution” also includes attempts to limit the scope of religious liberty, or to undervalue its role in a free and democratic society, Donohue declares, and yet faith “that cannot be exercised in the public square is faith denied.”
“‘Polite persecution’ of religion may not put us in imminent danger, but in the long run it can accomplish the same end,” Donohue concludes. “Campaigns to subvert it are in everyone’s interest.”