Georgetown U's Tom Farr on the Critical Need to Respect Conscience


Thomas Farr, visiting associate professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, served as a diplomat and was the State Department’s first director of the Office of International Religious Freedom.

Farr talks to Joan Frawley Desmond at the National Catholic Register on the challenges ahead for religious liberty and respect for conscience:

...When it comes to marriage, abortion or other issues of concern to Catholics, it leaves us in a precarious position. The remedy must be to engage with energy and optimism in public-policy debates, and to win.

Let me give you one example — among many — of the problem we face. The new health-care law may require Catholic associations like colleges and hospitals to provide contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in their health-care plans. Catholics are, quite reasonably, fighting to broaden the conscience exemptions from that requirement (exemptions which now appear to apply only to churches themselves).

Conscience protections are important because they acknowledge, in principle, that protecting the conscience of the religious dissenter is more important than the law itself. But the conscience approach is, in my view, insufficient. Catholics need to marshal their resources more effectively to defeat these laws in the legislatures. We have not done this well, and we should ask ourselves why.