Catholic Perspectives on Religious Liberty

September 13, 2012

On September 13, 2012, the Religious Freedom Project convened distinguished Catholic legal theorists, philosophers, political scientists, and theologians to discuss the meaning and value of religious liberty from different perspectives in the Roman Catholic tradition. Over the course of a daylong symposium, these scholars debated the legacy of Dignitatis Humanae, the Church’s landmark declaration on religious freedom issued in 1965. This report is an edited transcript of that conference.
In his keynote address, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, underscored the historical value and present-day promise of religious freedom on the shape and sustenance of American social and political structures. The assembled scholars presented their views in three panel discussions. The first panel considered the message of Dignitatis Humanae, and the document’s standing within the tradition of Catholic social thought. Does Dignitatis represent a revision or a development of doctrine? What impact has it had on the spread of religious freedom and democracy in countries with Catholic populations? The second panel weighed the impact of Dignitatis on the Church’s relationship with social movements, sovereign governments, and other faith-traditions with respect to the idea of human rights. That is, how has the Second Vatican Council’s affirmation of religious freedom affected the Church’s conception of international human rights law and practice? The third panel explored the application of Dignitatis to hotly contested legal questions in the American political context. What happens when assertions of religious liberty collide with other rights’ claims, as has been the case in contentious debates over the HHS mandate and same-sex marriage?

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