This past month, I have been ashamed to be a young Catholic in Chicago. This is not because I deny the religion in which I was raised, not because I have given up my desire to reform the Church, but because my community has supported division and
misunderstanding in the name of “religious liberty.”
The controversy began when it was discovered that the route of the 2012 Chicago gay pride parade would pass Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Lakeview neighborhood, possibly disrupting Sunday services. Francis Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago, related the gay liberation movement to the Ku Klux Klan. He feared the possibility that gay activists, on parade day, would embody the same brutal anti-Catholicism as the Klan, endangering Catholics on the morning of the parade.
My disappointment does not solely come from the issuance of this statement, but from the fact that George, in his apology for the statement, claimed that he spoke out of fear for the Church’s liberty. While I do not have to define the many stances and tactics
that differentiate the gay rights movement from the Ku Klux Klan, I feel as though I must acknowledge the fact that Cardinal George spoke out of fear for his community, not an intention of hatred. While I understand George’s fears, and while I respect and
understand his role in guiding and overseeing the Catholics of Chicago, I believe his invocation of religious liberty touches upon a very serious aspect of our often-faltering national discourse.
Highlighting and combating abuses of religious freedom is crucial to our societal cohesion. As we have seen in issues of national awareness, such as the Park51 center and the controversy regarding the “All-American Muslim” television show, as well as in
issues of local concern, such as the vandalism of community synagogues and churches, religious intolerance has not disappeared from the ills of our society.
However, as we have seen through the statements made by Cardinal George, defending religious liberty demands not only the revelation of abuses perpetuated by majority communities against minority communities. It also means protecting the sanctity of this ideal, defending it from those who would seek to limit, constrain, and misapply it. We must be equally aware of both challenges if we are to be advocates for pluralism in the United States.
It is our duty to not only spread awareness regarding local threats to religious freedom and to combat the dominant narratives of fear-mongering that plague our societal discourses, but to also serve as humanizing agents of religious and secular communities
in our society. Safeguarding religious freedom, a defining tenet of our national foundation, is the mutual duty of all members of all communities, religious or secular. As an integral aspect of initiatives of interfaith engagement, intercultural interaction, and
intergenerational wisdom-building, it speaks to a deep desire for humanity to flourish, express, live, and love.
Ultimately, we must remember that, despite the reality of religious intolerance and hatred that still exists in our society and communities, the call to peace and consciousness is being echoed across our country and around the world. Religious Freedom USA serves as one of these voices, calling us to the awareness of our common humanity and destiny, inviting us to the realization that if freedom is denied to one, it is denied to all. While fear may lead manyto perpetuate abuses of religious freedom, and still others to misapprehend this ideal, solidarity and the development of critical consciousness can build a solid foundation of respect.
I look forward to offering further insight and critique of such issues facing the Chicagoland and Illinois communities and connecting them to the wider battle we must wage – the defeat of narratives of intolerance, the promotion of religious pluralism, and the protection of liberties for all.
Contributed by Peter Dziedzic, RFUSA’s Illinois Blogger.
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