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Archbishop: Religious convictions crucial to US public debate
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Monday, May 18, 2009
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NEW YORK (CNS)—Religious convictions must play a role in public debate if America is to remain true to its founding principles, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver told a New York audience May 7.
"American public life cannot work as its founders and framers intended if we stick religion in the closet like a dangerously eccentric in-law," the archbishop said in his acceptance speech for the Canterbury Medal, presented annually by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
"America doesn't need to be a 'Christian' country," he added. "But it can't survive without being a nation predisposed and welcoming to religious faith."
Archbishop Chaput expressed concern about remarks President Barack Obama made in his inauguration speech about restoring "science to its rightful place" during his administration.
He said Obama and his supporters have "stressed his religious credentials many times," and said the president's faith is "one of the factors that made him attractive to voters last fall."
"But from a believer's point of view, that makes the president's confusion about the 'rightful place' of science—a not just in his inaugural remarks, but in many of his words and actions since then—even more curious," the archbishop said.
"The rightful place of science, like all human activity, is in the service of human dignity and under the judgment of God's justice," he said. "Science can never stand outside or above moral judgment."
Archbishop Chaput said he never really understood what religious freedom meant until he served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom "and saw what its absence looked like" and understood "the systematic abuse of religious believers that takes place in so many countries around the globe."
"Some of that same contempt for religious faith and disdain for serious religious believers is now part of our own national dialogue," he said. "And we underestimate it at our own great cost."
The archbishop said Americans "were founded as a religious people, but with public institutions that avoid religious tests."
"American public life depends for its life on Jews and Protestants and Latter-day Saints and Catholics and all religious believers vigorously advancing their convictions in public debate," he said. "We need to do that peacefully and respectfully, but we need to do it -- without evasions or apologies or alibis. Otherwise we're stealing the most precious thing we have—our religious faith and our moral character—from the struggle for the common good."
The Canterbury Medal is presented annually to honor those who have "most resolutely refused to render to Caesar that which is God's."
Archbishop Chaput greeted two previous honorees who were present at the dinner—Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, and Jim Nicholson, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and former secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
He also mentioned another past medal recipient who was not present—Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, who also served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
"I know a lot of very good scholars, public servants and attorneys," the archbishop said. "But I don't know any who have the mix of grace, intelligence, faith, candor, clarity of conviction and personal character that translates into a Mary Ann Glendon."
In March Glendon was chosen to receive the University of Notre Dame's prestigious Laetare Medal during the Indiana university's May 17 commencement. However, she has since turned down the honor, citing the controversy that has grown over the university's decision to invite President Barack Obama to deliver the commencement address and to present him with an honorary degree.

She announced April 27 that she would not accept the Laetare Medal or participate in Notre Dame's graduation ceremony. On April 30 the university announced it will not award the medal this year.

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