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Panel Explores State Of Religious Liberty In America

For The Heights

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

On Wednesday, April 18 at 7:00 p.m., The Church in the 21st Century Center held a panel discussion titled “Is Religious Liberty Under Threat In America?” focusing on religious charities and educational, health, and social service ministries. The discussion panel took place in Robsham Theater, and was moderated by John L. Allen, Jr., an NCR Senior Correspondent who has written seven books on the Catholic Church.

The featured panelists included M. Cathleen Kaveny, Vincent D. Rougeau, and Rev. J. Bryan Hehir. Kaveny is the John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law and Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame and the author of over 80 articles and essays. Rougeau is the Dean of Boston College Law School, and is currently researching the relationship between religious identity and democratic citizenship in the global world. Hehir is the Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Religion and Public Life, as well as the Secretary for Health Care and Social Services in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Topics discussed at the panel included the proposed health care reforms that would require organizations to provide insurance for contraceptives, the idea of individual religious freedom as compared to religious freedom of institutions, and the methods that may be taken to reach a consensus in American society.

One of the questions involved the use of the term “religious war” in the context of debate. “I despair, and I find it very disturbing, the degree to which we use the words violence and war,” Rougeau said. “I don’t think that this conversation will proceed in a positive way if we use those terms.”

Kaveny expressed hopefulness for a mutual solution in the topic of health care reform. “I have a little bit of hope,” she said, “that we may be going towards a workable compromise.” Kaveny focused on the issues of personal rights versus the rights of religious institutions as well. “We’ve got to protect religious institutions, but I keep thinking of the people who may be affected by them, and do not agree.”

Hehir argued for an exemption for religious organizations as the best way to approach health care. “Allow the law to remain in place and provide an exemption for religious institutions,” he said. “To my mind, it’s bad policy that tries to exclude an exemption.”

Other topics explored the rights of religious institutions in America from a historical perspective and the different methods in which other countries handle the issue of religion and politics. Members of the public, for whom the panel was free for viewing, were able to write down questions prior to the start of the panel and submit them as topics for conversation.

The Church in the 21st Century Center began in 2002 as a response to the sexual abuse scandals among members of the Catholic Church. The goal of the program is to be a resource for the renewal of the Catholic Church in the United States by drawing on the community at BC, as well as other Catholic communities. It currently focuses its activities, which include conferences, public lectures, publications, and other informational resources, on four main goals. These goals include sharing the Catholic faith with younger Catholics, fostering relationships based on a mutual trust between men and women in the Catholic community and members of the Catholic Order, developing an approach to sexuality mindful of human experience and reflective of Catholic tradition, and promoting contemporary reflection on the intellectual Catholic tradition.

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