Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins, left, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, are two of the speakers at the Faith in the Public Square event in Toronto. Register file photos.

Putting religion back in the public square

By 
  • July 27, 2014

TORONTO - A century ago renowned Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton mused that freedom of religion once meant you were free to express your religion, but now it means you should rarely mention it.

That observation comes from respected Chesterton scholar Dale Ahlquist, one of the keynote speakers at an upcoming Toronto conference that will examine the issue of faith in the public square. It was an issue dear to Chesterton that has only grown in importance over the decades.

“Chesterton saw that people would be offended if you actually stood up and said what you believe,” said Ahlquist. “He saw that there was less freedom (in his lifetime) than when we had more local public squares. It is the loss of the public square that has been one of the main problems.”

For three days in early August, the Archdiocese of Toronto and St. Augustine’s Seminary are teaming up to revive the public square. They have organized an event in downtown Toronto from Aug. 5-7 in which prominent speakers will address the role of religion in civic life.

It is an issue that concerned Chesterton and has become even more contentious today as a more secular, culturally diverse society confronts a host of situations that are creating friction between civil society and religion. The recent pronouncement by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau that pro-life supporters will be banned from carrying the party banner in an election is just one example.

The three-day conference, called Faith in the Public Square, will be held at St. Michael’s College School, Centre for the Arts and will examine the role that religion should play in civic life. The event marks the windup of a year-long celebration to commemorate the 100th anniversary of St. Augustine’s Seminary, and will feature public sessions with talks given by Ahlquist (Aug. 5), Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput (Aug. 6) and Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins (Aug. 7).

Ahlquist, host of EWTN’s The Apostle of Common Sense that explores Chesterton’s writings, will examine Chesterton’s views on the subject of religion in civic life. Chaput will speak about the relationship between law and morality. And Collins will review Thomas More’s defiance of Henry VIII and discuss staying faithful to God, family and country in a secular age.

All three speakers have “some kind of public notoriety in addressing the issue of faith in relation to the public square,” said Matthew Sanders, manager of special projects in the archdiocese.

“Dale Ahlquist, for instance, is a Chesterton scholar, and Chesterton is quite famous for making faith practical for people in their everyday life,” Sanders said. “Also, Ahlquist is a staunch defender of the importance the faith can have in effecting public policy and moral judgment.”

Chaput was invited because “anyone who’s paid any attention to Archbishop Chaput’s career would know he’s one of the most publicly outspoken leaders in the Amercian Church,” said Sanders, especially on the “relevance of faith in the public square” and “one’s conscience in political matters.”

Collins has been active in the debate “between faith and how it interacts with public life,” said Sanders, referring to the cardinal’s disapproval of Trudeau’s insistence that all federal Liberals tow the party line on abortion.

The cardinal’s plan is “caring for the gathered and reaching out to the scattered,” said Msgr. A. Robert Nusca, quoting the cardinal. Nusca, associate professor of the New Testament, was rector of St. Augustine’s during the planning days of the event.

Nusca is concerned that modern society not only discounts the contribution religion can make to civic life but the public square “doesn’t recognize or want religion,” he said.

“Our faith informs our actions, our public life,” he added. “Our faith gives us a moral compass.

“The larger context is the New Evangelization. There needs to be a conversation between secular society and people of faith.”

In addition to the public sessions, there will be three days of private lectures focusing on the issue of the media and law.

The public lectures begin at 7:30 p.m. and cost $20 per session.

For more information and tickets, visit www.archtoronto.org/ faithinthepublicsquare.

Comments (1)

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Will Faith in the Public Square be broadcast over the internet or there is a way to join a simulcast of the event?
I have a petition on change.org to ask Prime Minister Stephen Harper to appoint me to the Senate and wold like to take part in this...

Will Faith in the Public Square be broadcast over the internet or there is a way to join a simulcast of the event?
I have a petition on change.org to ask Prime Minister Stephen Harper to appoint me to the Senate and wold like to take part in this event virtually from New Brunswick. Thank you.

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