President of Canada's Bishops to Knights

"Freedom of religion and conscience is necessary for the common good of countries such as Canada where religious diversity is the norm"

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ANAHEIM, California, AUG. 8, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the address given Tuesday by Archbishop Richard W. Smith of Edmonton, Canada, the president of the Canadian bishops' conference. Archbishop Smith was addressing the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, under way through Thursday in Anaheim.

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Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and Dorian, Brother Knights and Ladies, Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

Thank you for the kind invitation to be with you and to speak with you for a few minutes this evening. It is a pleasure to bring you greetings on behalf of the Bishops of Canada, a good number of whom share the dais with me here tonight. I trust you will see in our presence with you a sign of our deep esteem for the Knights of Columbus, and of our gratitude for the excellent work you do in our country, in solidarity with the Bishops and priests, in the service of our Lord's Church. I would like to take advantage of this occasion to offer particular thanks to you for your support of the work of our Conference, especially your financial contribution to the Catholic Office for Life and Family, on whose Board you are represented by your Deputy Supreme Knight and my fellow Canadian Dennis Savoie.

The theme for this Convention draws our attention to the profound importance of religious liberty. In response to current developments in the United States, the clergy and faithful of this country, under the impressive and courageous leadership of your Bishops, have mounted a robust defense of this fundamental right.  Of course, this is not a concern unique to the people of this land; in Canada, too, we face many challenges in this regard, as do Christians and people of faith elsewhere throughout the world. As you may know, the Bishops of Canada have recently issued a pastoral letter to remind not only Catholics but also all Canadians that freedom of religion and conscience is necessary for the common good of countries such as Canada where religious diversity is the norm. These freedoms are not granted by the state, society or any human authority, but belong to all people by virtue of their humanity. For this reason, when these freedoms are disregarded or repressed, the human person – and therefore human society – suffers. Freedom of conscience is necessary for seeking the truth and adhering to the truth. Freedom of religion is not merely the right to freedom of worship; it includes the right to live out one’s faith in the public square.

Our letter was occasioned by the violent attacks on Christians in many places of the world and by the presence in our own country of an aggressive relativism that actively seeks to force its own view of truth on others. It attempts to relegate religious belief to the private sphere, and considers religion to be insignificant, alien or even destabilizing. Legitimate secularity is open to the engagement of religious beliefs and faith communities in public debate and civic life. Radical secularism, however, excludes religion from the public square. This disfigured view of the secular attempts to silence religious believers when their views contradict its own, particularly on issues of education, human life and the family. It is highly hostile to a truly democratic and pluralist society, in that it tolerates only its own voice and tries to silence all others.

On an issue of such fundamental importance we must not fail to be vocal. It is not just a Catholic issue, but impacts the lives of all believers and even those of no faith. Throughout North America the need is clear. Our call at this moment is to affirm the right of religion to be active in the public square; to defend the freedom of people of faith and of religious institutions to act in accordance with their beliefs and their nature; to maintain healthy Church-State relations; to understand conscience correctly and to form it according to objective truth; and to protect the right to conscientious objection. Believers are summoned now to stand up for their faith, even if they must suffer for it. The Knights of Columbus do not shy away from doing so, and we Bishops are grateful for your witness.

God bless you all.