Georgetown, Religious Freedom, and Human Dignity

Before saying a final farewell, we invited our graduating research assistants to reflect on their time working with the Religious Freedom Project. We asked them to comment on how their experiences with the RFP have affected their success at Georgetown and how an understanding of religious freedom has influenced their perspective on certain issues in fields such as political science, economics, and theology. 

By: Louis Cona

One of the highlights of my Georgetown education has been my work as an undergraduate research assistant for the Religious Freedom Project. Two and a half years ago, I joined the RFP team to assist with the Christianity and Freedom Initiative, a two-year research project which explored Christianity’s historical and contemporary contributions to human freedom and dignity. The initiative ended with a capstone conference in Rome, where over twenty scholars from the around the world met to discuss their research. 

My work with the Initiative was one of the most worthwhile endeavors of my academic career. I enjoyed every moment of the constant excitement and the opportunity to interact with great thinkers and ideas. Perhaps the most important lesson from the initiative was not so much learning about the current challenges and threats to religious freedom, but rather, realizing why religious freedom is worth defending in the first place. Why is it such a threat to the well-being of man and society if religious freedom is restricted?

The initiative—in conjunction with a class I took that semester with Professor Timothy Shah, titled “Arguing Religious Freedom”—revealed that many of the values we enjoy and uphold as a civilization today have their roots in Christianity. It was the early Christians who opposed the barbarism of the Roman Empire and unceasingly defended the dignity of every human life. The Christians were the ones who opposed the gladiatorial games and the merciless treatment of lower societal classes. Christianity also empowered women, elevating them to respected and dignified places in society and culture. 
Today, however, we are beginning to see a disdain for Christianity’s historical and contemporary contributions to society. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, for example, does not include any mention of Christianity. Similarly, the preamble to the Treaty on European Union merely “draws inspiration” from the “the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.” The West is living on the "interest" of Christianity, even though it has removed the "principle," a situation that is doomed to fail. Why keep the morality when we have rejected its source? Why uphold values of dignity, peace, truth, and goodness when we have rejected their metaphysical roots? These are questions that I asked myself during my work with the project, helping me to grow simultaneously in my academic and faith life.

The ongoing cultural battles today are no doubt a side-effect of jettisoning the Christian foundations of our civilization. I fear, however, that by discarding Christianity—and other religions for that matter—our culture will also discard the values that we all cherish, which have their origin in the Christian religion. Religious freedom is worth defending because humanity is worth defending. Life, social mobility, science, politics, and freedom are all enhanced by a healthy and robust participation of religion in the public sphere. And what better place is there to defend the first freedom enshrined in our constitution than in the heart of our nation’s capital at the oldest Catholic and Jesuit University? 

The Religious Freedom Project captures the spirit of Georgetown and the vision of its founder Archbishop John Carroll, who wanted people of all faith to participate in the public sphere. We as students must take what we learned here at Georgetown and, following St. Ignatius and John Carroll, go forth setting the world on fire with divine love.

Louis Cona graduated from Georgetown in 2015 with a major in government and minors in theology and medieval studies.

This piece was originally authored on May 18, 2015 for the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

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