Legislative seminar draws hundreds to discuss public policy, role of faith in the public square

Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, encourages attendees Sept. 6 at the Diocesan Pastoral Center to be informed voters and to recall past successes such as the passage of the Marriage Protection Amendment in 2008. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, encourages attendees Sept. 6 at the Diocesan Pastoral Center to be informed voters and to recall past successes such as the passage of the Marriage Protection Amendment in 2008. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)

With the election just weeks away, people from throughout the Diocese of Phoenix gathered for a Mass and legislative seminar Sept. 6 aimed at equipping them to become faithful Catholics in the public square.

The Saturday morning event was also the occasion for the re-release of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s “Catholics in the Public Square” booklet that was originally issued in 2006. Some 250,000 copies have been distributed since then.

During his homily at St. Mary’s Basilica, Bishop Olmsted harkened to the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians about being mistreated for the faith.

“How do we respond? We bless,” Bishop Olmsted said. “When we are being ridiculed, He is still there and really close to us then. It’s a time to rejoice and bless God.”

The legislative seminar, Bishop Olmsted said, was being held to “help us to be wise as serpents but gentle as doves… it’s meant to prepare us for a spiritual battle that must be fought with love and kindness.”

The marriage issue is once again headline news. Bans against same-sex marriage in Indiana and Wisconsin were struck down in a unanimous ruling by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Sept. 4. The United States Supreme Court has been asked by numerous states to settle the issue once and for all.

In 2008, the year Arizona’s marriage amendment was on the ballot, there was a 40 point swing in attitudes by active Catholics on the question of marriage.

“We can’t give up,” said Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference. “I believe this is a pivotal time for the Church and in history.”

Alan Sears, general counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, spoke to the crowd about threats to religious freedom and the many clients the ADF has represented.

“You and your religious freedom are under legal assault as never before in our 238 years as a nation,” Sears said. “Those liberties will become fleeting memories if not guarded.”

Elections matter, Sears said, and participating in the process is “absolutely critical… Those who occupy the seats down the street at the state capitol will decide by their actions… how much freedom you as Arizonans have in the coming years.”

Sears cited the case of the Hercules Company owned by a family in Colorado. The family objected to the contraceptive mandate and the draconian fines they were facing would have put them out of business, Sears said.

“This is a fine Catholic family that celebrates the dignity of every employee and every customer,” Sears said. The contraceptive mandate “demanded their direct cooperation with evil.” ADF attorneys represented Hercules, which was ultimately vindicated.

Sears also spoke to the continuing battle over the redefinition of marriage and attempts by some to shut down debate. A college professor teaching a course on Catholic doctrine was asked about the Church’s teaching on homosexual behavior. After stating the teaching, a student — who was not even in the class — made a complaint.

“The next day, the professor was fired,” Sears said. “Your conscience, or your profession? These cases give us a taste of what we will face tomorrow,” Sears said.

Maggie Gallagher, a journalist and speaker who has written four books on marriage and who founded the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, spoke about how society’s views on marriage have changed and the importance of the marriage relationship.

“When I was born in 1960, 95 percent of children were born to a mother and father” who were married to each other. Some 85 percent stayed married until one spouse passed away. Today, the number has shifted dramatically, Gallagher said.

A former atheist who is now an active Catholic, Gallagher said that “marriage is not a private affair, but affects society.” Getting involved in the public square, she said, is important. “It’s the goal of many in power to make us silent and invisible… our task is to continue to stand on the truth.”

Both Sears and Gallagher received standing ovations for their talks.