Why Religious Freedom Matters

New Register Podcast Focuses on Pressing Issues in Education

This Religious Freedom Matters series will again feature sharp discussions with some of the brightest minds in Catholic academia and political analysis.
This Religious Freedom Matters series will again feature sharp discussions with some of the brightest minds in Catholic academia and political analysis. (photo: NewFabrika / Shutterstock)

It’s becoming increasingly clear that we’re facing an overwhelming cultural force that is pulling our society away from its moral and religious roots. 

This past summer, my organization, the Conscience Project, teamed up with the Register to produce the Religious Freedom Matters podcast. The pilot series delved into the challenges we’re confronting as faithful Americans. We looked at what the Catholic Church has to say about the importance of religious freedom in society. We discussed the legal protections for people of faith in America, some recent victories for religious freedom in our courts, and the clashes between government and religious liberty that have yet to be resolved. And we spoke about our country’s duty to advance religious freedom globally. Our message was clear: Religious freedom will survive only if we know how to defend it.

As we entered into the fall, it became alarmingly clear that religious freedom in the United States is under sustained attack in the very places that should be upholding it — mainly our schools and universities. To make matters worse, some school officials and government leaders think nothing of keeping parents in the dark about what their children are experiencing at school. And, shockingly, some of these institutions are Catholic. As a mother of 10 children, I am navigating these waters myself. The situation is very disorienting.

To help inform you — parents, grandparents, teachers, school administrators, clergy and religious — about the relationship between religious freedom and education, we are producing another Religious Freedom Matters podcast series. This time we will focus on religious freedom and education. 

My co-host for this series is one of the most distinguished reporters in this field — Joan Frawley Desmond, the Register’s senior editor. Together, we tracked down courageous parents who are asserting themselves as their children’s primary educators; we also identified some of the latest maneuvers by hardline progressives and tone-deaf politicians. 

This Religious Freedom Matters series will again feature sharp discussions with some of the brightest minds in Catholic academia and political analysis. Our guests explain, in a fresh and authoritative manner, why religious freedom has never mattered more and how crucial it is now that our Catholic schools, colleges and universities be authentically Catholic. 

Sharing her insight on the invidiousness of gender ideology in schools is powerhouse Mary Rice Hasson, head of the Catholic Women’s Forum at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. Hasson testified earlier this year before the Senate Judiciary Committee against the ill-named Equality Act. As the mother of seven adult children, Hasson has seen the tide change in our schools. That’s why she co-authored, with her sister, Theresa Farnan, a book called Get Out Now: Why You Should Pull Your Child From Public School Before It’s Too Late, describing the morally, intellectually and politically toxic environment found in many of our schools. 

Hasson is not the only one sounding the alarm. Denise Donohue, vice president for educator resources at the Cardinal Newman Society, explains the dangers found when critical race theory is incorporated into school curricula and culture. Among other things, Donohue points out that St. John Paul II’s theology of the body is a much more appropriate resource for helping young people understand and reject the sin of racism. 

These two lay Catholic women agree with Archbishop José Gomez, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, that Catholics must be wary of the pseudo-religions, dogmatically opposed to Catholic beliefs, that are currently posing as new “ideologies” and “social-justice movements.” 

The problem is most acute in universities. We’ll be hearing from two of the brightest stars in the firmament of Catholic higher education: Dominican Father Dominic Legge and professor Joseph Capizzi. Father Legge, director of the Thomistic Institute, is helping to strengthen the intellectual formation of students and professors at more than 50 colleges and universities by promoting Catholic truth in our contemporary world. Capizzi, meanwhile, is director of the Institute for Human Ecology (IHE), a dynamic research institute based at The Catholic University of America. By drawing on the Catholic intellectual tradition, Capizzi, his staff and IHE’s scholars are increasing scientific understanding of the economic, cultural and social conditions vital for human flourishing. 

What about education for young learners? Well, we talk to Notre Dame law professor Nicole Garnett about recent developments at the Supreme Court that promise to break down barriers to school choice for parents and place Catholic and other religious schools on equal footing with government-run public schools. We also check in with Mike Ortner, father of six children and founder with his wife, Liz, of the Ortner Family Foundation. Mike has launched the Catholic School Playbook, documenting what thriving Catholic schools are doing differently to cultivate strong communities of students, families and educators.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of the groundbreaking work being done by these faithful Catholics. Assaults against religious liberty in America are increasingly targeting the rights of parents as primary educators — and the ability of the Church to teach the truth about the human person and the proper ordering of society. The malice directed against us is frightening. 

This new series of Religious Freedom Matters will help you better understand the challenges we face, inspire you to defend religious freedom in education — and strengthen the light of the Gospel in your own homes and communities.

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is the director of the Conscience Project and host of the Register's Religious Freedom Matters podcast.