Freedom, Religious

Is religious freedom even a thing?

Religious freedom is touted as the right to hold personal beliefs about God or religion, no matter how ungrounded or immoral such beliefs are. Christians, however, including bakers and those operating adoption agencies, are forced by the government to participate in same-sex weddings or approve same-sex parenting.

Long before the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), when governments were founded on Christian principles, religious freedom was discussed from the objective point of view that error has no rights. The emphasis was on man's moral responsibility to make his religious choices based on divine truth. There's only one God, and He established only one Church as the means of salvation.

When secular governments are oppressive and unmindful of God's laws, Council Fathers authored Dignitatis Humanae (DH). It came from the subjective standpoint that all people, including those in error, have rights. The council recognized that people must be free from secular legal coercion in order to seek God and to choose His Divine Truths. Even Catholics can't force or coerce unbelievers to convert. Faith is a divine gift and authentic conversion happens only when a person sincerely accepts divine truth with the assistance of grace.

This subjective view supports what Americans call their inalienable or God-given natural right to religious freedom. This natural or human right is expressed as a legal or civil right in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This legal right to religious liberty is called a negative civil right as it bars secular government from meddling in personal religious affairs.

Religious freedom doesn't give Catholics the moral right to rebel against divine authority within the Catholic Church. It also doesn't exonerate non-believers from their moral responsibility to seek God and His Church. The Council Fathers affirmed in DH that God created all men with the moral duty to sincerely seek His Truth and the grave obligation of embracing that supernatural truth once they found it.

Learn what happens when religious freedom goes awry in this episode of Church Militant's Premium show Mic'd Up—The English Martyrs.

Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th. is a staff writer for ChurchMilitant.com.

Follow Bradley on Twitter: @BradleyLEli