Observatory on Religious Liberty Commences in Rome

Archbishop William Lori Brings Freedom of Religion Discussion to International Forum

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, JUNE 28, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop William E. Lori today addressed the introductory meeting of the newly-established Religious Liberty Observatory in Rome. The Observatory is an initiative of Italy’s foreign affairs office which aims to support Italian international diplomacy with regards to violations against religious liberty.

Archbishop Lori, who is Chairman of the United States Bishops’ Ad Hoc committee for religious liberty, was invited to speak to the Observatory because of his role in promoting and defending religious liberty. Religious freedom in the United States is currently being threatened by the US government’s Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate; under this mandate, institutions would be required by law to provide contraceptive pharmaceuticals and medical procedures for employees, regardless of religious belief.

In his speech entitled “Religious Liberty: God’s Gift to all Nations is our Responsibility to Defend,” Archbishop Lori spoke about the importance of ensuring that religious freedom is rightly understood and protected. Individuals and groups, the archbishop maintains, have the right “not only to worship freely, but indeed to put their faith into practice, both publicly and privately.”

Currently taking place in the United States is the Fortnight of Freedom, an initiative introduced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the two weeks leading up to Independence Day on July 4th. Its purpose, says Archbishop Lori, “is to pray that our freedom to proclaim and practice our faith will be preserved, and to spark among ourselves, and our fellow citizens that internal vigilance, which is the price of freedom.”

“Violations against religious liberty should alarm us all,” the archbishop continued, “whether one is religiously inclined or not. Something fundamental is being lost in American culture and law. If this loss of freedom does not and will not serve the common good of our nation, or of other nations where bloody religious persecutions are underway, at the end of the day we will be judged by our fidelity to our responsibilities and how we sustain that fidelity.”

“Our responsibilities call us to rally for religious freedom in the context of the national common good, and as a beacon of hope for people suffering religious persecution in many parts of the world,” he said.

Chairman of the Religious Liberty Observatory Massimo Introvigne, who moderated the conference, explained the decision to invite an American archbishop to introduce the initiative, rather than a representative of a country where religious persecution is manifested more with greater force. “Archbishop Lori,” he explained, “has been active in a very important field, a field which should be our starting point: What is religious liberty? And why is religious liberty important?” Religious freedom, Introvigne said, “is the very cornerstone of our freedoms and liberties.”

It is important, moreover, to show that violations against religious liberty are happening throughout the world. “It is an alarming trend in recent years” Introvigne continued, to witness “serious problems of religious liberty in the West, in Europe, in North America. And I think we should all be aware that religious liberty is not only a problem in Africa or in Asia. It’s a problem everywhere, and there are some disturbing developments also in the West.”