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Religious believers must speak in the public square, archbishop says

February 13, 2015
Marie Mischel

PROVO, Utah – People of faith have both the right and a duty to fight for their convictions, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told students at Brigham Young University.

His Jan. 23 presentation, “Magna Carta at 800: Why It Still Matters, Here and Now” was part of the university’s “Lectures on Faith, Family, and Society” series.

Lessons from the document, crafted in England 800 years ago, while St. Francis of Assisi was founding the Franciscan order in Italy, are pertinent to communities of faith in the United States today, he said.

“The terrain of our lives in the 21st century is very different from the world in 1215. But the power of religious faith to limit the power of a sovereign – whether elected to the White House or a king by divine right – might be very familiar to the men who gathered at Runnymede” with King John of England to draft the Magna Carta, the archbishop said.

The Magna Carta, a list of 63 royal commitments and concessions, included a demand for recognition of the rights of the Catholic Church, the archbishop said, adding that this has implications in the modern United States because institutions like the family, churches and fraternal organizations are meant to constrain the state.

“So protecting these mediating institutions is vital to our freedoms,” he said at the Mormon university. “The state rarely fears individuals. Alone, individuals have little power. They can be isolated or ignored. But organized communities – including communities of faith – are a different matter. They can resist. They can’t be ignored. And that’s why they pose a problem for social engineers and an expanding state.”

He called upon the audience to work for good laws that reflect their beliefs.

“Democracies depend for their survival on people of conviction fighting for what they believe in the public square – legally and peacefully, but zealously and without apologies. That includes all of us,” he said.

“Critics often accuse religious believers of pursuing a ‘culture war’ on issues like abortion, sexuality, marriage and the family, and religious liberty,” he continued. “And in a sense, they’re right. We are working hard for what we believe. But of course, so are the people on the other side of all these issues - and no one seems to call them ‘culture warriors.’ In any case, neither they nor we should feel bad about fighting for our convictions. Democracy thrives on the struggle of competing ideas. We steal from ourselves and from our fellow citizens if we try to avoid that struggle.”

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