Harvard law grad speaks on rebuilding religious liberty

Liam Fanning
Staff Writer

A guest speaker spoke of his deep faith in the value of religious liberty on a talk given Friday at 3 p.m. in the Gentile Gallery.

The speaker, James Sonne, is a Harvard Law graduate who is the founding director of the Religious Liberty Clinic at Stanford Law School. Sonne’s talk was titled “Rebuilding a Culture of Religious Liberty in Light of Dignitatis Humanae.”

Speaking on religious liberty in contemporary America, Sonne said, “We as American Catholics are blessed to have two guideposts to mark our steps and, in turn, help shape our culture and law.”

Sonne said these guideposts are the First Amendment to the Constitution, which protects free speech, and “Dignitatis Humanae,” which is the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious liberty.

Both of these documents express the idea that “religious liberty is a right that precedes the state,” Sonne said.

Although he noted the support for religious freedom among Founding Fathers such as George Washington and James Madison, Sonne said, “The road to full religious freedom has not always been a smooth one here in America.”

“Catholics were met with suspicion at our nation’s founding and well into the twentieth century,” he said.

Sonne addressed the discrimination on the basis of religion continues today. He said, “Islamophobia is a disturbing recent trend (in the United States), and antisemitism has sadly never left us.”

Moving on to “Dignitatis Humanae,” Sonne said that while there are theological differences “that should be debated with other faith traditions,” the Council Fathers taught that it is a danger for Catholics to ignore “the plight of other faiths vis-à-vis the state.”

Religious liberty is not only a right owed to the dignity of human persons but “a fundamentally Christian concept that belong to all of us, which is so beautifully articulated in ‘Dignitatis.’”

Empathizing that religious liberty is a value that must be inculcated in the culture in order for it to be practiced correctly, Sonne quoted Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia and said, “No law and constitution can protect religious freedom.”

Summing up his talk, Sonne echoed Pope John Paul II in stating the importance of religious liberty as “the foundation of every truly free society.”

The talk was given as part of the ongoing Friday Academic Lecture Series.