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CHAPUT-SEPARATE Oct-8-2004 (590 words) xxxn

Separating faith, public life denies U.S. identity, archbishop says

By Catholic News Service

DENVER (CNS) -- To attempt to separate faith from public life is to deny American history and our national identity, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver said Oct. 7 at a workshop on church-state issues.

"When the 'separation of church and state' begins to mean separating religious faith from public life, we begin to separate government from morality and citizens from their consciences," Archbishop Chaput said in his Oct. 7 keynote talk at Religious Institutions Law Day. "And that leads to politics without character, which is now a national disease."

The daylong workshop was sponsored by a Denver law firm and two Colorado chapters of the National Association of Church Business Administration.

"For Catholics, all of our actions and all of our choices should be rooted in our Catholic identity and in our relationship with God," the archbishop said. "That means our choices at work; at play; within our families; and also the choices we make in living out our citizenship."

The Founding Fathers "never intended, and never wrote into the Constitution, any prohibition against religious believers, religious leaders or religious communities taking an active part in public issues and the political process," he said.

Rather, he said, they were all "deeply influenced by Christian thought."

"The idea that we can pull those religious roots out of our modern political life without hurting who we are is very dangerous," he added. "The United States is nonsectarian. That's good. But 'nonsectarian' does not mean anti-religious, atheist, agnostic or even fully secular. Our public institutions flow from a religious understanding of human rights and human dignity."

Archbishop Chaput, a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the efforts to strip U.S. public life of its religious dimension also have serious ramifications abroad.

"Hostility to religion in our domestic public life makes Americans unable to think clearly overseas," he said. "This is a fatal weakness.

"The idea that we can have a dialogue with the emerging world in purely secular language is ignorant and foolish," the archbishop added, citing Iraq as an example.

"The assumptions we made about creating a secular, democratic Iraq, and the realities we're now dealing with, are completely out of sync," he said. "If American policy-makers refuse to understand and respect the power of religious faith in the world, we're headed for more of the same problems at enormous cost."

Archbishop Chaput warned that the United States risked becoming like Europe, which he said has lost "any sense of a common future" because of a "demographic collapse" and moves toward secularism.

"In rejecting its Christian identity, Europe has basically erased its own memory," the archbishop said. "In a hundred years Europe will be a radically different continent -- and quite possibly Muslim, because Muslims continue to bear children, and in having children they claim the future."

The Denver archbishop placed much of the blame for the current U.S. quandary about "separation of church and state" on President John F. Kennedy, the first -- and, to date, only -- Catholic U.S. president.

"Kennedy handled (the issue) by simply separating his Catholic identity from his public service," Archbishop Chaput said. "This wasn't too hard because his faith seemed largely nominal.

"But, in doing it, Kennedy confused an entire generation of Catholics and other Americans about the proper relationship of church and civil authority," he said.

"For religious believers not to advance their convictions about public morality in public debate is not an example of tolerance," the archbishop said. "It's an example of cowardice."


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