Days before the presidential election, the Office for Family Life
with the Arlington Diocesan Council of Catholic Women cosponsored a conference at
Marymount University in Arlington, titled, “Is America Still the Land of the
Free?” to address attacks on religious liberty.
The Nov. 5 conference drew more than 120 people, and began with
Mass celebrated by Father Paul D. Scalia, Delegate of the Apostolic Administrator
“The reason we have religious freedom is because we have a religious obligation, because we are created to seek Him who is seeking us." Fr. Paul D. Scalia, delegate of the apostolic administrator for clergy
Keynote speakers included
Father Scalia; Mary Eberstadt, author ofIt’s Dangerous
to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies; and Sister Rosemarie Yao,
vocations coordinator for the Little Sisters of the Poor in Richmond. All proceeds
from the conference and book sales went to the Sisters.
Father Scalia opened his talk with the passage from Scripture,
“render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.” From
there he divided the verse into the responsibilities Catholics have as citizens
and as disciples of Christ.
“We do not view the state as a necessary evil, as some modernists
might term it,” said Father Scalia. “Every human community needs an authority
to govern it,” he said, referring to the Catholic Catechism. “Its role is to
ensure as far as possible the common good of the society.”
He argued that the state might be perceived as a “necessary evil”
because of the potential abuse of power, and he underlined the federal
government’s increasing authority over local politics.
“How many people can name their most immediate government
officials and representatives?” he asked. “Most everybody can name the
president, maybe they can name their senators, even less likely their
congressman — and the closer you get to home the less likely it is that people
actually know who represents them.”
Without knowing their representatives, citizens rely on the state
“Why are the Little Sisters of the Poor in so much trouble right
now?” asked Father Scalia. “Because people have forgotten that caring for the
sick, the elderly, the poor wasn’t always the responsibility of the government.
It was other societal organizations that did these things. Now we have the
Turning to the second half of the verse — “ … render unto God
what is God’s.” — Father Scalia credited the family as the foundation of
society. Religion, he said, is the only entity that can limit the state’s power
because it recognizes a higher authority, God.
“The reason we have religious freedom is because we have a
religious obligation, because we are created to seek Him who is seeking us,”
said Father Scalia. “We have, from God, that right to seek Him. Not just to
seek Him in the confines of a church, but to seek Him and make Him known in
society and that is true freedom of religion."
Mary Eberstadt, outlined a litany of examples in the United States
and the United Kingdom where government has inserted its authority into
religious institutions, particularly education. She compared the growing
animosity toward Christians in popular culture to witches in the Salem witch
Sister Rosemarie closed the talks with a story of a homeless man
named Sal. Through the sisters’ care — they provided Sal a home, amenities, religious
education and love. Sal entered the church before he died and was buried in a
“One soul at a time,” she said. “This is what we’re about: to
value the dignity of a human person.”
Afterward, a question and answer focused on how to maintain religious
Father Scalia pointed to the forgotten role of local government
and said, “as Catholics we should throw ourselves into (Mary’s) arms more than
ever.” Eberstdat recommended that believers “get off defense and onto offense” by
having the courage to speak for the marginalized that Christianity represents.