Archbishop George J. Lucas makes a point during the panel discussion on religious freedom as the NCC’s Paige Brown, left, State Senator Lou Ann Linehan and the NCC’s Tom Venzor look on. MIKE MAY/STAFF


Archbishop Lucas, NCC mark Religious Freedom Week

Jesus calls his followers to be salt, light and leaven in the world, for the common good of all.

That’s the message delivered by Archbishop George J. Lucas to nearly 100 people during a June 30 panel discussion capping off Religious Freedom Week.

During one of a planned series of casual forums called “Bishops and Brews,” the archbishop joined State Senator Lou Ann Linehan and Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) Executive Director Tom Venzor to discuss the importance of standing up for religious liberty and exercising one’s rights.

Religious Freedom Week, which began June 22, the feast of Ss. Thomas More and John Fisher, is sponsored annually by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This year’s commemoration, with a theme of “Life and Dignity for All,” invited Catholics to pray, reflect and act to promote religious freedom.

The Omaha event, held at the Thunderhead Taproom, was sponsored by the NCC and began with a social hour followed by an hour-long program emceed by Paige Brown, NCC statewide pro-life activities coordinator.

Archbishop Lucas leads attendees in prayer to begin the panel discussion. MIKE MAY/STAFF

“The Church has always treasured religious liberty, not simply because of a desire for self preservation, the archbishop said, “but because it’s revealed to us by God, and in God’s plan for the human family, that all persons should have the opportunity to seek the truth – truth rooted in God himself – and then to pursue the truth as it becomes known to them.”

But religious liberty also involves more than the freedom to practice our faith, he said.

“We’re called to be active in our exercise of our religious liberty to have an effect on the world around us, beyond our own churches or beyond our own institutions,” the archbishop said.

He cited the opposition raised concerning the Nebraska Board of Education’s proposed health standards, which included additions to curricula that would teach about topics such as abortion, homosexuality, gender identity and other topics viewed by many as inappropriate and in conflict with religious beliefs.

“Those who testified or who made their voices heard … were not just thinking about their own kids,” he said, “but thinking about the common good in realizing that no young people should be formed in the way that was being proposed.”

Public opposition led to the board shelving the proposed standards.

“So that’s what we might call a rich exercise of our religious freedom, not trying to impose our faith, but asking that reasonable standards prevail, that just laws prevail,” the archbishop said.

But common misconceptions surrounding the separation of church and state would see the Church restricted from participating in public debate concerning important issues of public policy, Venzor said.

Tom Venzor, right, describes several bills supported by the NCC during the recent legislative session. MIKE MAY/STAFF

Citing a letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association, he said Jefferson’s view was clear.

“It wasn’t about the fact that the Church should not be involved in public life, … but that the government should not be intruding on the Church’s activity to engage in the public square,” Venzor said.

“Whether that’s feeding the poor, whether that’s trying to lobby at the Legislature, whether it’s carrying out a number of other works such as religious worship, first and foremost, those are activities that should be protected.”

In her comments, Senator Linehan spoke about the critical need for people of faith to step up in the ongoing abortion debate, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

During its last session, the Legislature came two votes short of the 33 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and debate a “trigger bill” that would have outlawed abortion in the event Roe V. Wade was overturned.

Linehan said at least 32 senators support Governor Pete Ricketts calling a special session to craft a new abortion bill.

“If and when we go into a special session and whatever legislation gets brought, we have a call to action on our hearts,” she said.

“We have to be engaged in the public square. We have to make arguments that are rational and reasonable in order to protect human life and to ensure that every mother is loved in the way that she needs to be loved to say yes to the gift of life.”

“That’s going to be our responsibility to step up,” she said. “The voices will be very loud on the other side. And the question is, will our voice be as loud, in charity, as the other side.”


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