Addressing a largely Catholic audience Monday night at an event sponsored by the John Carroll Society in Washington, D.C., Cardinal Timothy Dolan emphasized the non-sectarian, non-partisan—catholic with a small “c”—nature of the fight for religious liberty. “It is not some far right, extremist cause,” Dolan said, but an “American human rights issue.”

Dolan, who recently attended both the Republican and Democratic conventions (“as a pastor [and] not to endorse any party, platform, or candidate”), has so far avoided taking an overtly partisan stance this election season. He has, however, been at the forefront of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ criticism of President Obama’s Health and Human Services mandate requiring many Catholic institutions to provide insurance plans to their employees that would cover contraceptives and abortifacients.

In a USA Today op-ed published in January, Dolan denounced the HHS mandate as “an attack on the cornerstone First Amendment freedom that is the very foundation of our democracy.” He continued:

the new Health and Human Services ruling is wrong for another reason. It is egregiously unfair, and as such, it cuts against the grain of what it means to be American… In a word, Americans expect government to be fair in how it governs, with respect for the exercise of the liberties and rights guaranteed all citizens under the U.S. Constitution.

Indeed, this basic American notion of fairness, the principle of equality under the law, was the animating force behind the great Civil Rights movement and the expanded recognition of rights for women and minorities in this past century.

These sentiments were echoed Monday night, as Dolan appealed to the “liberal” notion of religious freedom. He cited populist social workers and advocates of the poor such as William Jennings Bryan and Dorothy Day in arguing that religion has been the driving force behind “every enlightening, unshackling cause” in this country. The abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and the various social reforms enacted by presidents such as Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and LBJ all grew out of a greater religious cause rooted in the belief that all men and women are created equal by God, said Dolan.

And while the cardinal did not mention the president or the upcoming election once during his remarks, he did express his growing concern over the administration’s lack of protection of religious liberties. America is “the teacher to the world,” he stated. If her government cannot protect democracy’s “first and most cherished liberty,” who will?

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