“It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons, that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore personal responsibility, are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth. But men cannot satisfy this obligation in a way that is in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy both psychological freedom and immunity from external coercion. Therefore, the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective attitude of the individual but in his very nature.” (Dignitatis Humanae, Second Vatican II Declaration on Religious Liberty, 2).
The Knights of Columbus promotes a robust vision of religious liberty that embraces religion’s proper role in both its private and public dimensions. As both Catholics and Americans, we celebrate the essential relationship shared between religion and liberty, a relationship which has uniquely defined our country’s identity and has fostered our country’s development.
Every major achievement that has taken place within the American enterprise—the American Revolution; the abolition of slavery; the civil rights movement; reforms in education, labor and woman’s rights—has been at the urging of religious people seeking a more just and humane society. In this light, the Knights of Columbus recognizes religious liberty as an indispensable condition for authentic human development.
Consistent with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we believe that man, created in the image and likeness of God, possesses the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being, especially in moral and religious matters. Our Order remains steadfast in its conviction that religious liberty “is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person.” (Catechism, 1738).
We are therefore called to defend religious liberty against cultural trends that are increasingly hostile to Christianity and impede men and women from freely exercising their religion by living in accordance with it. As the Second Vatican Council noted, although we must respect the just autonomy of the secular sphere, we must take into consideration the truth that there is no realm of worldly affairs that can be separated from God.
St. John Paul II witnessed that when a society attempts to close the door to religion, it inevitably falls prey to a totalitarian reading of the human person that recognizes only the state as the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong. It is our duty as men of both Catholic faith and patriotism to resist militant secularism and to defend religious liberty at the international, national, state, and local levels. Without this necessary check on the power of the state, no principled limit can be recognized to prevent the expansion of government’s power at the expense of personal liberty.