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George Weigel to Youth: Defend Religious Freedom

George Weigel to Youth: Defend Religious Freedom

Says Pro-Life Cause Is Successor to Civil Rights Movement

MERRIMACK, New Hampshire, MAY 28, 2010 ( Catholic theologian and author George Weigel is urging college graduates to base themselves firmly in natural law in order to make a good defense of religious freedom in society today.   

The author of Pope John Paul II's biography "Witness to Hope" made this appeal at the May 16 graduation ceremony of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, in which he was awarded an honorary doctorate and gave the commencement address.

"One of the great challenges of the younger generation of Catholics will be to rise to the defense of religious freedom in full," Weigel said.

"This defense must be both cultural, in the sense of arguments winsomely and persuasively made, and political, in that young Catholics must drive the sharp edge of truth into the sometimes hard soil of public policy," he asserted.

"Religious conviction is community-forming," the author noted, "and communities formed by religious conviction must be free, as communities and not simply as individuals, to make arguments and bring influence to bear in public life."

He continued, "If religiously informed moral argument is banned from the American public square, then the public square has become, not only naked, but undemocratic and intolerant."

Weigel pointed out that religious freedom in the United States has been threatened by acts such as when the Supreme Court "erected a spurious 'right to abortion' as the right that trumps all other rights," and when legislators "decided that it was within the state's competence to redefine marriage and to compel others to accept that redefinition through the use of coercive state power."

Conscience rights

He added that "the conscience rights of Catholic physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals are not second-class rights that can be trumped by other rights claims; and any state that fails to acknowledge those rights of conscience has done grave damage to religious freedom rightly understood."

"The same can and must be said about any state that drives the Catholic Church out of certain forms of social service because the Church refuses to concede that the state has the competence to declare as 'marriage' relationships that are manifestly not marriages," Weigel said.

He urged the college graduates and others in the audience to defend religious liberty by speaking a "common language" to those outside the Church, that of natural law and the truths of reason.

These truths, the author pointed out, were referenced by Thomas Jefferson when he wrote about "inalienable rights" in the Declaration of Independence. As well, he added, Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights movement leader, appealed to these same truths while challenging racial segregation.

Weigel noted that "appeals to that same natural moral law underwrite the successor to the civil rights movement, which is the pro-life movement."

"And appeals to the natural moral law have underwritten U.S. international human rights policy for the past 30 years," he added.

The college president, William Fahey, also addressed the graduates, reminding them to "be mindful of the mark of true citizenship: that you are not dominated by pride, but that you turn always from yourself to the grandeur in this world, and then the reflection of the light incarnate, and then to the Light itself."

Some of the graduates, who have all just completed a four-year undergraduate program centered on a study of the Great Books of the West, have gone on to various internships serving Catholic organizations. Several students have written for ZENIT.


  1. Wonderful article! More than ever before, Catholics and all citizens of good will need to lose their fear of entering the public debate on issues that threaten the very foundations of our civilization; issues such as abortion, the new reproductive technologies, and anything that can negatively impact the dignity of the human person and the health of the family.

    As to separation of Church and State, Catholics are the first not to want a theocracy. No one wants to force uniquely Catholic doctrine into federal law. However, a healthy separation, and thus cooperation between Church and State cannot mean the relegation of one’s faith to the level of what Charles Chaput calls “a private idiosyncrasy”…. His book “Render onto Caesar” is a great read!

    And even though we can argue most issues rationally based on natural law, it is important to keep in mind that, as Chaput reminds us, what we believe about God, does shape what we believe about men and women…and this in turn shapes how we act--- socially, politically, and economically.

  2. "Natural law." Another phrase that makes absolutely no sense to me as it is used (or misused, if that be the case) and flung about like so much chaff from a thresher.

    Cristina, I am the only one who can decide what affects my dignity, whether it be positive or negative; and sometimes my best interests are not those of anyone else. In such cases, I will always choose to act in my own best interests, of course. Anyone who thinks they can "debate" me out of my best interests has a nasty surprise coming.

    In a truly healthy society, individual interests will always be placed above the interests of the group. When the group becomes more important than the individual, the group will die because the individuals will reject the group. And we are all individuals.

    "No one wants to force uniquely Catholic doctrine into federal law."

    Oh, you are sooooooo wrong... What do you think all these anti-choice rallies are about?

    And if Weigel is so supportive of "religious freedom," how come he's not supporting my religious freedom?

  3. Anonymous30 May, 2010

    Our young people are already taking up the challenge, especially here in Canada. The U of Calgary has threatened many times to charge, expel and intimidate the campus pro-life group. But these brave young people are standing their ground, and refusing to knuckle under to the intimidation of the administration at the U of C.

    The future looks bright for continuing the pro-life fight, and these young people are certainly stronger than my generation ever was.


  4. Anonymous30 May, 2010

    >"In a truly healthy society, individual interests will always be placed above the interests of the group. When the group becomes more important than the individual, the group will die because the individuals will reject the group. And we are all individuals."<

    Quite the opposite. A society extolling the virtues of self interest is doomed to failure. You'd have anarchy.
    In your ideal world, what would be the litmus test you'd use to impose any law against the interest of the individual?


  5. Anarchy is not necessarily the result of individual freedom, Paul. Being an individual does not mean that you never blong to a group -- only that you do not place the welfare of the group above your own welfare. And you are free to move from one group to another, as you choose.


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