Summing up Dignitatis Humanae 15, the Council recognizes three facts:
1. People want to be free to profess religion privately and publicly.
2. Many governments acknowledge this, declaring it to be a civil right.
3. Yet some governments deny this freedom.
This council greets with joy the first of these two facts as among the signs of the times. With sorrow, however, it denounces the other fact, as only to be deplored. The council exhorts Catholics, and it directs a plea to all (people), most carefully to consider how greatly necessary religious freedom is, especially in the present condition of the human family.
The Council saw that religious freedom is vital to peaceful and harmonious human interaction:
All nations are coming into even closer unity. Men of different cultures and religions are being brought together in closer relationships. There is a growing consciousness of the personal responsibility that every man has. All this is evident. Consequently, in order that relationships of peace and harmony be established and maintained within the whole of mankind, it is necessary that religious freedom be everywhere provided with an effective constitutional guarantee and that respect be shown for the high duty and right of man freely to lead his religious life in society.
The document concludes with a prayer:
May the God and Father of all grant that the human family, through careful observance of the principle of religious freedom in society, may be brought by the grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to the sublime and unending and “glorious freedom of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:21).
The pope referred to this document in his Angelus address earlier today; see the zenit link on the sidebar for it. Clearly, the Holy Father still sees this document as an essential part of the Vatican II spectrum, as should we.
It seems to me the notion of freedom and religion is twofold. As Catholics, we are naturally concerned about the free expression of religion, especially of our sisters and brothers in deplorable situations. We should likewise be aware of the freedom to search for the truth. In other words, people who may not have uncovered their religious destiny. Do they operate in an atmosphere that assists or inhibits that search?
The Council recognized that the Christian example of believers is paranount to attracting newcomers. Is there anything we would do contrary to the Gospel spirit? Such a means would circumvent the desired end: the conversion of the entire world’s people to Christ.
The question for Catholics on this topic would seem to be evident: do we faciliatate the absolute freedom of others? Like the voice of the herald, do we straighten the desert path for Christ, or do we entertain obstacles between people and their God?