US Citizens Need the Example of St. Thomas More

A Call to Use Creativity and Energy to Defend Religious Freedom

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Here is the latest column from Bishop James Conley, published in the Southern Nebraska Register.

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Most Catholics know the story of Saint Thomas More.  More was the 16th-century chancellor to the English King Henry VIII.  More was a gifted lawyer, a gifted writer, and a deeply devout Catholic.  

When King Henry VIII opposed the authority of Pope Clement VII and claimed authority over the English Church, More refused to support the King.  For that, he was judged to be treasonous, and in 1535 he was beheaded.

Saint Thomas More is compelling because he chose to follow his conscience in the face of poverty, imprisonment, and death.  But More’s story is interesting because of how hard he worked to avoid martyrdom: in fact, how hard he tried to serve both Christ and King Henry for as long as he could.  When the King claimed authority over the Church, More earnestly tried to remain a good citizen.  He tried to use the law to fight his unjust persecution.  He used all the creativity, and energy, and brilliance God had given him to work for justice.  And he prayed and fasted for his king and country.  It was only when there was no other option at all that Saint Thomas More became a martyr.

Today, in the United States, Catholics face serious crises of conscience.  Our federal government increasingly serves a secular agenda, and is increasingly intolerant of human life, the human family, and human dignity.  The federal HHS mandate represents the disregard with which the government treats religious people.  And Catholics in particular, have long-faced religious persecution in the United States.  In 2000, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that our government has long-standing Anti-Catholic laws that are “borne of bigotry.”

Our prayers and efforts are making a difference.  Just last week, the Catholic Benefits Association based in Oklahoma City won a major victory in the fight against the HHS Mandate.  But too often, religious believers are marginalized from the public square under the guise of “the separation of Church and state,” which is presented as a fundamental principle of American public life. 

But the fact is that the Constitutional framers didn’t envision a separation between faith and public life—largely, they realized the important role religion plays in moderating and directing self-government.  We have a difficult time governing ourselves well, they understood, without a faith that points us to goodness.

Religious liberty is important—for religious believers, and for the success of our nation. Like St. Thomas More, Catholics have a great deal to offer to this country.  From the time of the American Revolution, Catholics have served America in arms, and in leadership.  And the Christian understanding of natural law, of virtue, of justice and of freedom is at the basis of the American form of government.  Without the voice of Christians in public life, democratic self-government too easily becomes a tool for tyranny, for oppression, and for the triumph of hedonistic self-interest. 

Next week, on June 21, the USCBB’s annual Fortnight for Freedom will begin.  The Fortnight is a time to pray for religious liberty.  I invite you to pray with me.  On June 27, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, I invite all Catholics in the Diocese to fast with me for religious liberty. 

On that date, Friday, June 27, I will join other Christian leaders, at 7:30 a.m, at Zion Church in Lincoln, to pray for religious freedom.  Please join me.

We’re called—all of us, like St. Thomas More, to use our creativity, our energy, and our intellects to defend religious liberty in our nation.  And like him, we’re called to pray.  Please join me in fasting and prayer June 27, and please join me in defending our religious liberty.

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