Paul L. Caron

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Notre Dame Dean Marcus Cole's Address In Rome On Religious Liberty

Notre Dame News, Dean G. Marcus Cole’s Welcome Address at the 2022 Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit in Rome:

Good morning! I am Marcus Cole, Dean of Notre Dame Law School, and Founder of the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Initiative. On behalf of myself and our Faculty Director, Professor Stephanie Barclay, our interim Faculty Co-Directors Professor Nicole Garnett and Professor Rick Garnett, Senior Supervising Attorney John Meiser, and the entire legal and administrative staff of the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Initiative, it is my distinct honor and privilege to welcome you to the Second Annual Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit, highlighted by the presentation of the Notre Dame Prize for Religious Liberty.

The theme of this year’s Religious Liberty Summit, Dignitatis humanae, is taken from the statement of the same name promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965, at the end of Vatican Council II. This document is the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, and it sets out the Catholic Church’s support for religious freedom. While the vote of the Council was an overwhelming 2,308 to 70, this declaration in support of religious freedom was not uncontroversial. The Catholic Church had a history of using its elevated political status and power within Christendom to suppress nonconformity. Dignitatis humanae represented, to some, a revolutionary shift in the Church’s approach to religious freedom. Whether it is a shift or a clarification of Church doctrine, the protection and defense of religious freedom is central to the Catholic faith today. To me, as a Catholic, religious freedom is an essential extension of the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19, where Jesus commands me to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

Religious freedom is a necessary precondition for anyone to choose a faith, including mine. The world is also learning that it is an essential precondition for political freedom, economic prosperity, and human flourishing. ...

It would be an understatement to say that this has been a good year for religious liberty. In the United States, we have seen momentous court decisions at every level, striking down discriminatory restrictions on people of faith and religious practices. We at the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Clinic have participated in many of the victories, and our lawyers and students have led in some of them. We have seen the Supreme Court of the United States come down decisively in favor of neutrality when religious groups wanted to participate with secular groups in displays on public property. We have also seen the Court side with a public school employee who merely wanted to exercise his right to pray after a public event. And we have heard the decision of the Court in favor of families of faith who were denied public educational benefits simply because they wanted their children to be educated at faith-based schools. ...

While we can take heart from these positive developments in the United States, there is much more work to be done.

We cannot let the joyous results in the United States cause us to become complacent. There is a reason why cases involving religious freedom have come to prominence in the Supreme Court’s docket. It is because assaults on religious freedom have become so common in American life. There will be more of these cases, and soon. ...

We are going up against federal, state, local government officials who have the power to tax to fund their assault on our freedoms. And we go up against the largest, most powerful, and repressive surveillance state ever imagined. When I spoke before the U.K. Parliament earlier this month, I was asked whether the Chinese Communist Party laughs at human rights lawsuits filed by a Catholic university in the United States. My answer was that they may laugh at us now, but that we intend to grow this thing. We intend to shine a light on their abuses, torture, rape, forced labor, and murder. We intend to grow this thing until people around the world rise up to fight for religious freedom, if not for others, then for their own. We intend to grow this thing so that the people they hope to control recognize that their leaders are morally culpable, and perhaps unfit to rule. They can laugh at us and our efforts now, but we intend to grow this thing. 

They can laugh at us now, but we will not go away. 

This city – Rome – should remind all of us that no empire or entity is impervious to the truth. We sit here in the capital of the most powerful empire the world has ever known. The ruins of that empire are all around us. As my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ told us in Matthew 24:2, “Do you see all of these buildings? Truly I tell you that they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another.” Look around you. Your own eyes are witness to the truth of His words. The once great Roman empire was brought down – conquered – by an idea. That idea was a faith.

The Romans laughed at a faith, but in the end, their laughter ended.

So, the enemies of religious freedom can laugh at us now, but we will not go away. We will continue to fight for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion until it is enjoyed by all.

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