I thought I would share with you an excerpt from Dignitatis Humanae, (Of the Dignity of the Human Person), the Declaration on Religious Freedom from the Second Vatican Council. This is binding on all Catholics. There is much talk about the rights of man that are given by God, but we rarely hear that God also has rights. Catholics believe in freedom, but also that God has rights that must not be violated. Those who violate the rights of God are doing so at grave risk to their souls, but Catholics believe in freedom of religion in regard to the state.
11. God calls men to serve Him in spirit and in truth, hence they are bound in conscience but they stand under no compulsion. God has regard for the dignity of the human person whom He Himself created and man is to be guided by his own judgment and he is to enjoy freedom. This truth appears at its height in Christ Jesus, in whom God manifested Himself and His ways with men. Christ is at once our Master and our Lord and also meek and humble of heart. In attracting and inviting His disciples He used patience. He wrought miracles to illuminate His teaching and to establish its truth, but His intention was to rouse faith in His hearers and to confirm them in faith, not to exert coercion upon them. He did indeed denounce the unbelief of some who listened to Him, but He left vengeance to God in expectation of the day of judgment. When He sent His Apostles into the world, He said to them: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved. He who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). But He Himself, noting that the cockle had been sown amid the wheat, gave orders that both should be allowed to grow until the harvest time, which will come at the end of the world. He refused to be a political messiah, ruling by force: He preferred to call Himself the Son of Man, who came “to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the many” (Mark 10:45). He showed Himself the perfect servant of God, who “does not break the bruised reed nor extinguish the smoking flax” (Matt. 12:20).
He acknowledged the power of government and its rights, when He commanded that tribute be given to Caesar: but He gave clear warning that the higher rights of God are to be kept inviolate: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). In the end, when He completed on the cross the work of redemption whereby He achieved salvation and true freedom for men, He brought His revelation to completion. For He bore witness to the truth, but He refused to impose the truth by force on those who spoke against it. Not by force of blows does His rule assert its claims. It is established by witnessing to the truth and by hearing the truth, and it extends its dominion by the love whereby Christ, lifted up on the cross, draws all men to Himself.
Taught by the word and example of Christ, the Apostles followed the same way. From the very origins of the Church the disciples of Christ strove to convert men to faith in Christ as the Lord; not, however, by the use of coercion or of devices unworthy of the Gospel, but by the power, above all, of the word of God. Steadfastly they proclaimed to all the plan of God our Savior, “who wills that all men should be saved and come to the acknowledgment of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). At the same time, however, they showed respect for those of weaker stuff, even though they were in error, and thus they made it plain that “each one of us is to render to God an account of himself” (Romans 14:12), and for that reason is bound to obey his conscience. Like Christ Himself, the Apostles were unceasingly bent upon bearing witness to the truth of God, and they showed the fullest measure of boldness in “speaking the word with confidence” (Acts 4:31) before the people and their rulers. With a firm faith they held that the Gospel is indeed the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. Therefore they rejected all “carnal weapons: they followed the example of the gentleness and respectfulness of Christ and they preached the word of God in the full confidence that there was resident in this word itself a divine power able to destroy all the forces arrayed against God and bring men to faith in Christ and to His service. As the Master, so too the Apostles recognized legitimate civil authority. “For there is no power except from God”, the Apostle teaches, and thereafter commands: “Let everyone be subject to higher authorities…. He who resists authority resists God’s ordinance” (Romans 13:1-5). At the same time, however, they did not hesitate to speak out against governing powers which set themselves in opposition to the holy will of God: “It is necessary to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). This is the way along which the martyrs and other faithful have walked through all ages and over all the earth.
12. In faithfulness therefore to the truth of the Gospel, the Church is following the way of Christ and the apostles when she recognizes and gives support to the principle of religious freedom as befitting the dignity of man and as being in accord with divine revelation. Throughout the ages the Church has kept safe and handed on the doctrine received from the Master and from the apostles. In the life of the People of God, as it has made its pilgrim way through the vicissitudes of human history, there has at times appeared a way of acting that was hardly in accord with the spirit of the Gospel or even opposed to it. Nevertheless, the doctrine of the Church that no one is to be coerced into faith has always stood firm.
Thus the leaven of the Gospel has long been about its quiet work in the minds of men, and to it is due in great measure the fact that in the course of time men have come more widely to recognize their dignity as persons, and the conviction has grown stronger that the person in society is to be kept free from all manner of coercion in matters religious.
Read Dignitatis Humanae.