by Tom Venzor
Note: This column is the third of several columns that will run until Election Day (Tuesday, November 8). No column on the subject of voting as a faithful Catholic can cover all the important points necessary to vote with a clear conscience. The hope of these columns is to touch on some major themes that Catholics should consider during an election cycle. I strongly encourage you to read “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States. This relatively short but incisive document covers significant ground on the subject of voting as a faithful Catholic, and it is well worth your time.
The document of the Second Vatican Council Gaudium and Spes presents a beautiful presentation of conscience: “In the depths of his conscience, man discovers a law which he has not imposed on himself but which he must obey. His voice, always calling him to love and do good and avoid evil, resounds in his heart at the right time…. For man has in his heart a law written by God…. His consciousness is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. Here he is alone with God, whose voice resounds in his depths.
This same Council, in a different document, Dignitatis Humanae, further emphasized that the human person “must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor should he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.
We see therefore that the conscience has the right (and even the duty) to seek the Truth and to follow this Truth where it can lead the human person. At the same time, there is a duty imposed on these people or entities outside of consciousness. For example, as Dignitatis Humanae provides: “The human person has the right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men should be free from coercion on the part of individuals or social groups and from all human power, so that in religious matters no one should be forced to act in a contrary to his own beliefs. … whereby in private or in public, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits…. This human right must be recognized in the constitutional law that governs society. Thus, it must become a civil right.
Pope Benedict XVI, during his visit to the United States, recognized this freedom to act in accordance with one’s conscience, in particular with regard to religious questions, “the dearest of American freedoms”. The American bishops also coined religious freedom as “our first and dearest freedom”.
And as with any treasure we hold dear, vigilance requires each of us to protect that treasure for ourselves and for the next generation.
So how does this apply to the electoral context?
As Catholics, our obligation during election season is to determine the position of candidates on a number of issues, including conscience rights and religious liberty. Do candidates running for public office in your region have a fair and appropriate view of the human person and his rights to freedom of conscience and religion? You might even want to know if this issue is a core belief for them.
Where are they in allowing religious organizations and religious entities not only the freedom to practice their worship according to their religious traditions, but also the freedom to exercise those beliefs outside the four walls of their place of worship? For example, do they support religious charities to serve the poor, immigrants and other vulnerable communities in accordance with their religious values and mission?
How do they view the interests of conscience and religious liberty (not to mention professional judgments) of health care workers and institutions? Would they protect the sincere religious beliefs of physicians and health care institutions that have chosen not to perform problematic medical procedures and interventions?
How do they view the free speech rights of students, teachers, or others engaged in religious discourse in public places, such as public universities and colleges?
These types of questions can help you get a quick idea of where a candidate for public office stands on conscience and religious freedom. In evaluating these candidates, you must ultimately ask yourself the overriding question: will this person protect the common good and advance the dignity of the human person?
God bless you as you ask these tough questions while you do your candidate “homework”.