Immigration and religious liberty

Thursday, December 10, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit wrote to the priests of his diocese “in light of a public proposal put forth recently to restrict the immigration of Muslims into the United States based on their religion.” Anyone following the news knows what this is about. 

The archbishop said, “I thought it would be helpful to remind everyone of the Catholic teaching regarding Islam. Fifty years ago, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught that the Catholic Church treats with respect those who practice the religion of Islam.”

The 1964 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 16, states, “But the plan of Salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among whom are the Muslims: these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the One, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

The 1965 Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate 3, added, “The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, Who is One, living and subsistent, merciful and Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and earth (paraphrasing a letter from St. Gregory VII to the king of Mauretania), Who has spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging Him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, His Virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting.”

Nostra Aetate then discussed our difficult interfaith history: “Over the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims. The Sacred council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.”

Next the Vatican II document can be seen as a forerunner of what Archbishop Vigneron wrote. Nostra Aetate firmly declared, “Therefore, the Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against people or any harassment of them on the basis of their race, color, condition in life or religion. Accordingly, following the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the Sacred council earnestly begs the Christian faithful to ‘conduct themselves well among the Gentiles’ (1P 2:12) and if possible, as far as depends on them, to be at peace with all men (cf. Rm 12:18), and in that way to be true sons of the Father Who is in Heaven” (cf. Mt 5:45).

Looking at the history of his region, the archbishop wrote, “And for these past 50 years, Catholics and Muslims in southeastern Michigan have enjoyed warm relations marked by a spirit of mutual respect and esteem.”

He then noted that “while the Catholic Church refrains from weighing in for or against individual candidates for a particular political office, the Church does and should speak to the morality of this important and far-reaching issue of religious liberty.” This is true when other candidates make statements against our positions on human life and the family. We do not attack them but their policies. 

Next the archbishop linked the debate about Muslims in this country to the Catholic Church’s efforts to preserve religious liberty. “Especially as our political discourse addresses the very real concerns about the security of our country, our families, and our values, we need to remember that religious rights are a cornerstone of these values. Restricting or sacrificing these religious rights and liberties out of fear — instead of defending them and protecting them in the name of mutual respect and justice — is a rationalization which fractures the very foundation of morality on which we stand. This also threatens the foundation of religious liberty that makes it possible for us to freely practice our faith. These are not only Catholic sentiments on these issues; these, I believe, are the sentiments of all Americans.”

One is mindful that attacks on one set of rights often have the aftereffect (intended or not) of harming other rights, too. Archbishop Vigneron sees that, while also just speaking up for the basic decency of respecting his fellow Michigan residents. His words should echo through the rest of our country. As even some advocates for this harsh proposal admit, most Muslims do not want to harm Americans. Critics of it point out that if the U.S. were to have such a policy, it could push more people into the embrace of ISIS. Would that be making America great again?

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