WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 29, 2011 – Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is stressing the value of religious liberty for all faiths, defending in particular the rights of Muslims.

The former archbishop of Washington made this appeal today on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in a testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights hearing regarding “Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims.”

The cardinal affirmed, “We see religious freedom as an essential foundation for our life together in our own nation and across the globe.”

He noted that this freedom “is destroyed by attacks on people in some countries because of their religion and by the terrible misuse of religion to incite hatred and even justify violence.”

“A justified concern for security and the appropriate pursuit of those who pervert religion to attack others cannot be allowed to turn into a new form of religious discrimination and intolerance,” the prelate pointed out.

He continued, “This is why we stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters in defense of their dignity and rights, just as we welcome and expect their reciprocity and solidarity with us when the rights of Christians and other religious groups are violated around the world.”

Expressions of faith

Cardinal McCarrick stated: “It is essential to point out that religious liberty begins with the right to worship according to one’s conscience, but it does not end there.

“Religious freedom includes other vital activities which express our faith, among them are the freedom of conscience in providing health care and other human services, the right to establish and maintain schools that authentically reflect our own values, and the right to participate in and contribute to public and community affairs.”

He observed that in this light, “acts of bias and discrimination towards Catholics and our beliefs are often expressed very publicly.”

“For example,” the prelate said, “we are charged with discrimination or called ‘bigots’ when we advocate for the traditional understanding of marriage between one man and one woman, which many religious and non religious traditions have supported throughout human history.”

“We advocate for an authentic vision of marriage not to offend or to treat people unjustly,” he explained, “but to offer a positive and healthy model of the human family, which has served as the foundation of society throughout the ages.”

The cardinal affirmed, “We remain firmly committed to the defense of religious liberty for all — not just for Catholics — because our commitment is based on our concern for the dignity of each and every human person.”

“At the same time, we recognize that not every charge of wrong-doing against people or groups within a religious community amounts to religious discrimination, bias or bigotry,” he added. “Religious beliefs are no excuse for threatening others with or carrying out acts of violence.”

Extremist ideology

Cardinal McCarrick acknowledged that “at this particular moment in our nation’s history, we face a real threat to our national security from terrorism that has its origins in a particular form of extremist ideology that holds itself out as authentic Islam.”

“These pervasive threats endanger all people both in this country and abroad,” he affirmed. “We cannot pretend that these threats do not exist.”

“Our government has a duty to understand the threat and confront it effectively,” the cardinal said, “in order to keep our citizens safe and to promote and defend the common good of all.”

He added, “The legitimate concern for the public order, however, must be pursued with effective skill and respect for religious liberty and with particular concern to avoid generalizing about Islam based solely on the extreme views and conduct of a small group of radical extremists.”

“As a religious community, our Catholic faith and our respect for the religious beliefs and freedoms of others commit us to defend and promote the right to religious freedom for all as a moral priority and human responsibility,” the prelate stated.

“We do not do this alone,” he said, “but walk alongside our neighbors of diverse creeds and religious traditions.”

Cardinal McCarrick urged: “As predominantly Muslim societies wrestle with how to treat religious minorities, let them look to our nation where we work to ensure that their Muslim sisters and brothers are treated with dignity and their religious identity and beliefs are treated with respect.

“Let them see a people blessed with hard won religious freedom living out our commitment to the rights of all by demonstrating full respect for the identity, integrity and freedom of all religions and their institutions.”