The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Professor named as consultant

Anna Boarini | Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Law professor Richard Garnett, recently named a consultant to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said the appointment is an opportunity to help protect religious freedom in America.

“I am deeply committed, as a citizen and as a scholar, to the importance — indeed, the centrality — of religious freedom,” he said.

“The opportunity to assist the Catholic bishops of the United States, and the Church more generally, in understanding, protecting and teaching about this freedom, is an honor.”

The committee aims to “address the increasing threats to religious liberty in our society so that the Church’s mission may advance unimpeded and the right of believers of any religious persuasion or none be respected,” Bishop William Lori, chair of the committee, said in a press release.

While he is uncertain what his specific responsibilities will be, Garnett said he believes it will have to do with religion and the law.

“I teach and write about church-state relations, religious freedom and constitutional law, so the work of the ad hoc committee is very closely connected to my own scholarly work, and … to the distinctive Catholic character and mission of the University,” he said.

Garnett said the subcommittee will approach the issue of religious freedom from an interfaith and international perspective.

“I sense that [the committee members] are sensitive to the importance of educating Catholics about the centrality of religious freedom: religious freedom for all, not just Catholics, and not just for Americans,” he said.

Garnett said some people underestimate the level of religious persecution in the modern world.

“In many places, Christians suffer outright persecution, and I think the bishops want to remind Catholics of the need to pray for and support these victims of persecution,” Garnett said.

It is crucial citizens understand that religious freedom is a basic right, he said.

“There is also the important need to help not only Catholics, but all Americans, understand that religious freedom is not just a matter of ‘special pleading,'” he said. “It is not a ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ concern, but a human rights concern.”

The way governments approach the issue of religious freedom has ramifications for its overall human rights policies, he said.

“Other freedoms are not secure in a political community that does not protect religious freedom because, at the end of the day, a government that respects religious liberty is one that acknowledges limits on its power and reach,” he said.