In April 2012, the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” warning against what the bishops consider to be unprecedented threats to religious freedom from various governmental actions. Commonweal’s comprehensive, ongoing coverage of the religious-liberty issue includes a special report featuring commentary from a number of distinguished contributors, as well as editorials, articles, and blog posts. We’ll continue to follow the topic as developments unfold, so come back to this page for further coverage, analysis, and opinion.



William A. Galston examines “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” not simply as an intervention in a political debate, but as a document that claims to be grounded in history, constitutionalism, and natural law as well as an empirical analysis of the current situation. “Nonetheless,” he writes, “I find it impossible to agree with most of the bishops’ arguments.” 


Michael P. Moreland reads parts of “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” as a call for a renewed appreciation of the importance of institutional pluralism in a liberal society. If the statement is to have a lasting legacy, he writes, “it will be in awakening American Catholics and their fellow citizens to an awareness of the great good of institutional pluralism and the limits of the modern state.” 

Cathleen Kaveny says the bishops tend to frame their complaint in terms of religious liberty. Yet most religious-liberty cases involve minority religious groups seeking to be left alone to pursue holiness as they see fit. They don’t “try to influence the broader community,” she notes, “nor do they attempt to recast American society in their own image.”

Douglas Laycock calls the bishops’ statement on religious liberty better than many such statements. Some of its examples, such as immigration laws that prevent the church from ministering to illegal aliens, are well chosen. But he also senses a missed opportunity: “Because its fundamental points are more asserted than argued, it can neither persuade those who disagree nor prepare the faithful for further debate.” 

Mark Silk says the document isn’t an enunciation of a Catholic understanding of religious liberty but an exercise in latter-day Americanism. “Given the dubious argumentation and the high rhetorical gloss,” he writes,” I confess some uncertainty as to whether it is a statement of principle or merely a prudential document.” 

Peter Steinfels believes the bishops’ full-throated campaign is understandable: Every struggle over religious freedom has a cultural and political context. What’s missing, he says, is a comprehensive and measured strategy combining “public argument, sensitive pastoral leadership, legal defense, and the political savvy that knows where, in a pluralist society, a line can be drawn and when compromise is appropriate.” 

Read the entire June 15 issue:
Commonweal June 15, 2012 Issue: The Bishops and Religious Liberty


Partisan Dangers
Why the bishops’ statement and proposal for public action are likely to increase the possibility of religious liberty becoming a partisan issue.

Compromise or Stalemate?
Whatever the shortcomings of the Obama administration’s position, it appears that the religious-liberty concerns of the bishops are being taken seriously.

Bad Reaction
Is the question of contraception coverage really where the hierarchy wants to issue a non-negotiable edict?  

Bad Decision
The administration’s decision on exemption raises deep concerns about its understanding of the fundamental corporate and institutional nature of the Catholic Church. 


Column: Is the Government 'Defining Religion'?
Cathleen Kaveny says the USCCB's opposition to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act is rooted in a mistaken assumption about how our law operates.

Column: All Aboard?
E.J. Dionne says that even some bishops don’t agree with the USCCB’s religious-freedom strategy.

Short Take: Not a Muslim Issue?
Gregory Metzger wonders why the bishops’ statement on religious freedom includes nothing about the rise of anti-sharia laws in the United States.

Short Take: A Cherished Accommodation
Nicholas Cafardi on how the bishops have surrendered their religious liberty.



CHA to HHS: Drop the definition of 'religious employer.' Seriously. Posted by Grant Gallicho

The religious liberty campaign is not partisan. Really. Posted by David Gibson

Fact-checking Cardinal Wuerl and Bishop LoriPosted by Grant Gallicho

The bishops, their allies, and religious freedom for Muslims. Posted by Mollie Wilson O'Reilly


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