The announcement of a Religious Liberty Task Force being created at the Department of Justice drew praise from Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, who said that religious freedom is vital to the common good of the U.S.
“As Americans we intuitively understand that individuals should be free to live in accordance with what they believe to be true, that is, in accordance one’s conscience,” said Kurtz, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ religious liberty committee.
Kurtz spoke July 30 at a Religious Liberty Summit hosted by the Department of Justice.
At the summit, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of the new task force, saying it “will help the Department fully implement our religious liberty guidance by ensuring that all Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations.”
Sessions warned that “a dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.”
Ultimately, confronting and defeating this threat will require an intellectual shift to remember the importance of religious freedom, a “core American principle,” that the Trump administration is committed to protecting, he said.
“This administration is animated by that same American view that has led us for 242 years: that every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith in the public square.”
In his remarks, Archbishop Kurtz stressed that religious organizations do a lot of good for society.
But in recent years, these organizations have found it harder to operate in line with their beliefs due to governmental policies, such as the Obama administration’s HHS contraception mandate, and the recent crackdown on faith-based foster care and adoption providers who place children only in homes with a mother and a father, he said.
Kurtz cited Illinois, Massachusetts, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and D.C. as among the places where faith-based organizations have been shut down or hampered by the government because of their religious beliefs.
The exclusion of faith-based groups from being able to serve the public - whether it be through homeless shelters, assisting migrants and refugees, or providing meals to the hungry - “makes no sense in a pluralistic society” like the United States, he said.
“We should look to have all hands on deck when it comes to tackling the greatest needs of our day.”
There are more than 400,000 children in the foster care system in the United States, and of those, about 100,000 of them are eligible for adoption. These numbers are only increasing, said Kurtz, in the wake of the opioid crisis.
“Now is not the time to limit agencies that are able to serve children,” the archbishop said. “Intolerance for religious views has real consequences, as vulnerable children suffer the most.”
He noted that in Arkansas, faith-based organizations are responsible for recruiting half of the state’s foster families.
“Our country is much richer when we have public-private partnerships that work well,” Kurtz said, emphasizing that faith-based groups often have “very deep roots” in a community, and have the the trust of community members.