Religious Freedom Rooted in ‘Prior Obligation’ to God and Truth

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) encourages the faithful to pray for and reflect on the gift of religious liberty from June 22–29.

Religious Freedom Week begins on the feast of Ss. Thomas More and John Fisher, martyrs executed for their refusal to sign the oath of supremacy in which Henry VIII claimed to be head of the Church in England.

It also includes the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, June 24, killed for his opposition to the public adultery of Herod, and concludes on the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul, apostles martyred in Rome.

Internationally, the USCCB asks the faithful to be aware of the persecution of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua and conflicts and religious tensions in Nigeria.

Domestically, the focus is on freedom for Catholic institutions, such as schools, hospitals, and child welfare service providers, to carry out their missions with integrity.

There are two distinct issues for the Church when it comes to religious freedom, said Dr. Rodney Howsare, Professor of Theology at DeSales University.

First, “the Church has to make a case for her right to continue to engage in health care, in the business of marrying people, etc., which overlap with civil concerns, but to do so in the light of her theology and morals.”

Second, the Church teaches that religious truth places an obligation on people and societies.

Citing Dignitatis Humanae, the Declaration on Religious Freedom promulgated at the Second Vatican Council, Dr. Howsare said, “it's very clear from that document that our freedom of religion is situated in a prior obligation toward the truth and toward God. There's an absolute obligation to do what one can to find the truth about God and to live a moral life.”

This understanding of freedom predates Vatican II. Dr. Howsare referenced St. Thomas Aquinas, 13th Century Dominican friar and Doctor of the Church:

“For Thomas, freedom is given to us as a potential to reach our end, which is blessedness, virtue, etc. There's no such thing as freedom by itself; freedom is always already conditioned by an end. That is, it is objectively grounded in God and in our nature.”

In a section entitled “The social duty of religion and the right to religious freedom,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds Christians of a duty to “to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good” and “to make known the worship of the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church.”

More information on Religious Freedom Week can be found at

Photo: St. Thomas More (left) and St. John Fisher. CNS composite; photos by Catholic News Service file, and The Crosiers


Mass Livestream