Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services spoke this week with the Register at the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. He discussed raising awareness of the persecution that religious minorities face around the world and cautioned against the tendency to equate freedom of worship in the U.S. with religious freedom. The archbishop also discussed the danger to religious freedom of “social experiments” in the U.S. military.
What are some of the things you’d like to see come out of this ministerial?
I think one of the most important things would be a greater understanding about the nature of religious liberty and the fact that it is so compromised in so many places in the world, and that’s an awareness that perhaps needs to be encouraged here in the United States, and that’s obviously the largest audience that we have here [at the ministerial]. Perhaps coupled with that, I thought one of the speakers this morning was very good about talking about toning down the discourse. And I think that’s something that would be very good certainly nationally, but also internationally, so that we are able to listen to one another if we’re not always shouting.
What are some of the most important things you wish Catholics in the U.S. knew about religious persecution, particularly worldwide?
One of the things that’s important is to recognize that certainly Catholics still are persecuted in various parts of the world. And that’s something that’s perhaps not universally known. Then, secondly, that other religious groups also experience persecution; and we might be aware of that a little bit more because of the tragedy in New Zealand or the tragedy in Sri Lanka. But there certainly needs to be a greater awareness that what we enjoy here in the United States is not the experience of most people around the world.
What do you think is the greatest threat to religious liberty in the U.S. and also abroad?
Well, the greatest threat in the U.S. is probably just the lack of understanding of what freedom of conscience means. We’ve already had attempts to define, to reduce religious freedom to freedom of worship, and they are two very different concepts. They’re related, but they are very different. And so that is probably the threat in the United States: that somehow our freedom of conscience would be compromised because people might not like what different religions are saying. You have to be able to live together in community, but at the same time, you have to also be able to respect the religious beliefs of others.
As religious liberty goes internationally, probably one of the concerns is the inability of people to practice their faith. Here I don’t think that’s ever going to be a threat or certainly those who wish to curtail religious liberty in the U.S. will do so only with difficulty, but in other parts of the world it is a problem. There are parts of the Middle East where we have millions of Filipino guest workers, for instance, who aren’t allowed to practice their Catholic faith, and that’s something that should be better known and perhaps something that should be addressed.
Regarding religious freedom in the military, what are some of the concerns there?
Obviously for the U.S. military, certainly the First Amendment right is respected and is judiciously respected. When there are social experiments made on the military that can put military personnel in a dilemma because they can be perhaps ordered to do something against their conscience — strictly speaking, you can never be ordered in the U.S. [military] to do something against your conscience. But when people use rank and other means to try and force their will on others, then that is a danger and that is a compromise. I think that’s something that needs to be very carefully and very judiciously respected. Certainly at the higher levels of the military there’s a great awareness of that, but sometimes when you get into the trenches, if I can use an Army term, then that respect for conscience sometimes becomes problematic.
Do you think the Trump administration has made progress on religious freedom since the last ministerial?
I think certainly there has been progress, certainly in the international sphere and in the notion of awareness. There’s still a tremendous amount to be done, though. We’re grateful for the progress that is being made, but we always hope for more.
Register staff writer Lauretta Brown is based in Washington.