Religious freedom is an issue every year, but rarely has it become so highlighted as in this election year. But it is not, says Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, an issue that those speaking up in defense of religious freedom — including the U.S. Catholic Bishops — actively sought out.“If this is perceived as a partisan issue, it’s because one party favored the [Department of Health and Human Services] mandate for contraceptive coverage and one did not,” Archbishop Chaput told The Tidings in a phone interview. “This is not something that we as a church sought out; those who have forced the mandate on the church have made it a partisan issue, and we are trying to protect ourselves in declaring our opposition. We didn’t pick this fight; it was imposed on us.”Religious freedom figures to be on the minds of many come September, when Archbishop Chaput comes to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels as featured speaker for the 2012 Los Angeles Catholic Prayer Breakfast. While the former archbishop of Denver — under whom Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez served as an auxiliary (1999-2004) — said the topic for his Sept. 18 address is still being developed, he is well aware that the freedom to practice faith in accordance with one’s religious beliefs is never far from most Americans’ thoughts. “We, as bishops, as Catholics, are always committed to the principles of religious freedom,” he said. “That means we are committed to proclaiming and practicing the Gospel teaching in the world through our service in health care, in education, in reaching out to the poor, in protecting life.”For any organized religion in America, the challenge — especially in an election year — is to ensure that the focus of discussion and debate in political issues remains on the issues, and not on personalities. Especially from an institution like the Catholic Church which bases its teachings on Jesus’ call to love one another.“We show love and respect for people,” said Archbishop Chaput. “But if a position is wrong, then it is wrong, and we are called by the Gospel to say so. To try to give respect to a position that is against the moral law of God is wrong.” That does not mean, he added, that Catholics don’t love and respect the individual person. “Our history as a Church is that of service to others, of loving humanity,” he explained. “Our call is to be charitable, to serve, but we cannot hold back in proclaiming our faith and in proclaiming what we believe is the truth of the Gospel.”Born Sept. 26, 1944, in Concordia, Kansas, Charles J. Chaput was ordained a Capuchin Franciscan priest in 1970, served in several provincial posts and in 1988 was named bishop of Rapid City, S.D. In 1997 he was named archbishop of Denver, the first Native American archbishop in the U.S. (he is a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe). He was named archbishop of Philadelphia in July 2011 and installed last September.Archbishop Chaput — who recently released a new e-book on religious freedom, “A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America” ( — is looking forward to his Los Angeles appearance and the chance to connect with Archbishop Gomez.“We belong to a prayer group that meets five times a year,” he noted. “But the miles and time zones between us present a challenge to keeping in more frequent contact, and the busier we are the harder it is to stay in touch. So it will be good to come to Los Angeles.”The 2012 Los Angeles Catholic Prayer Breakfast is scheduled Sept. 18 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, beginning with 6:30 a.m. rosary followed by Mass, breakfast and keynote on the plaza. Reservations will be accepted beginning July 1. Tickets and information: (800) 838-1356 or{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0615/prayerbreakfast/{/gallery}