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Marymount University hosts discussion on religious liberty

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Days before the presidential election, the Office for Family Life with the Arlington Diocesan Council of Catholic Women cosponsored a conference at Marymount University in Arlington, titled, “Is America Still the Land of the Free?” to address attacks on religious liberty.  

The Nov. 5 conference drew more than 120 people, and began with Mass celebrated by Father Paul D. Scalia, Delegate of the Apostolic Administrator for Clergy.

“The reason we have religious freedom is because we have a religious obligation, because we are created to seek Him who is seeking us." Fr. Paul D. Scalia, delegate of the apostolic administrator for clergy

 Keynote speakers included Father Scalia; Mary Eberstadt, author ofIt’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies; and Sister Rosemarie Yao, vocations coordinator for the Little Sisters of the Poor in Richmond. All proceeds from the conference and book sales went to the Sisters.

Father Scalia opened his talk with the passage from Scripture, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.” From there he divided the verse into the responsibilities Catholics have as citizens and as disciples of Christ. 

“We do not view the state as a necessary evil, as some modernists might term it,” said Father Scalia. “Every human community needs an authority to govern it,” he said, referring to the Catholic Catechism. “Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society.”

He argued that the state might be perceived as a “necessary evil” because of the potential abuse of power, and he underlined the federal government’s increasing authority over local politics.   

“How many people can name their most immediate government officials and representatives?” he asked. “Most everybody can name the president, maybe they can name their senators, even less likely their congressman — and the closer you get to home the less likely it is that people actually know who represents them.”

Without knowing their representatives, citizens rely on the state for assistance. 

“Why are the Little Sisters of the Poor in so much trouble right now?” asked Father Scalia. “Because people have forgotten that caring for the sick, the elderly, the poor wasn’t always the responsibility of the government. It was other societal organizations that did these things. Now we have the reverse.”

Turning to the second half of the verse — “ … render unto God what is God’s.” — Father Scalia credited the family as the foundation of society. Religion, he said, is the only entity that can limit the state’s power because it recognizes a higher authority, God.

“The reason we have religious freedom is because we have a religious obligation, because we are created to seek Him who is seeking us,” said Father Scalia. “We have, from God, that right to seek Him. Not just to seek Him in the confines of a church, but to seek Him and make Him known in society and that is true freedom of religion." 

Mary Eberstadt, outlined a litany of examples in the United States and the United Kingdom where government has inserted its authority into religious institutions, particularly education. She compared the growing animosity toward Christians in popular culture to witches in the Salem witch hunts.   

Sister Rosemarie closed the talks with a story of a homeless man named Sal. Through the sisters’ care — they provided Sal a home, amenities, religious education and love. Sal entered the church before he died and was buried in a Catholic cemetery.  

“One soul at a time,” she said. “This is what we’re about: to value the dignity of a human person.” 

Afterward, a question and answer focused on how to maintain religious liberty. 

Father Scalia pointed to the forgotten role of local government and said, “as Catholics we should throw ourselves into (Mary’s) arms more than ever.” Eberstdat recommended that believers “get off defense and onto offense” by having the courage to speak for the marginalized that Christianity represents. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016