April 17, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - America’s bishops have done the Church proud in the last couple of months as they have fought valiantly for religious freedom and the dignity of human life in the face of Obama’s contraceptive mandate.

The bishops’ most recent statement on religious freedom, issued last week, was praiseworthy – in particular for its clear teaching that Catholics have an obligation to fight, and even disobey, Obama’s mandate and other unjust laws.

But as someone who has committed his life to the pro-life cause, I wondered at the document’s contention that religious freedom is “our first, most cherished liberty.”

First, like other observers, I must say I have been incredibly grateful to our bishops recently in what has surely been an unprecedented mobilization of the Church in support of her controversial teachings on human sexuality.  Indeed, we have seen some strikingly bold statements.

I think of Cardinal Dolan’s frank admission that the Church’s failure to impart its teachings on contraception means they “forfeited the chance to be a coherent moral voice when it comes to one of the more burning issues of the day.” Or Bishop Daniel Jenky’s warning this past weekend that Catholics must line up against Obama’s “radical pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda” at the ballot box in November or else the Church will lose all her dearly-held institutions.

The title of last week’s document – “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” – was partly quoting a statement by Pope Benedict XVI himself, who referred to religious liberty as the “most cherished of American freedoms.” But I believe the document takes it further than the Pope by calling religious liberty our “first freedom.”

It struck me because I had just finished preparing a talk arguing that the right to life is the most basic issue and, consequently, that abortion is the battle of our age.

Of course, that wasn’t exactly my idea.

Consider this quote by Pope John Paul II: “The common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination” (Christifideles Laici).

And numerous prelates have taken the late Pope’s lead. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, for example, has said that “deliberately killing innocent human life, or standing by and allowing it, dwarfs all other social issues.”

Now, of course, for Christians, proclaiming the Gospel, evangelizing the culture, pursuing holiness, are always going to be the overriding concerns and the most basic calling.

But I would argue, taking John Paul II’s lead, that in the public square, where we work to establish a just society that safeguards the common good, the right to life is the most basic issue. And, of course, abortion is by far the most pervasive and pernicious attack against life – carried out by government agents, and in many places with taxpayer dollars, on the order of the child’s own mother.

Abortion, further, is all the worse because it involves a deliberate campaign to dehumanize an entire stage of human life, and at its most vulnerable state no less.

Certainly issues like same-sex “marriage” and religious freedom are in some ways more topical because abortion is already so long-entrenched and so there’s a more concerted effort right now to push forward attacks on religion and the family.

But I would argue that the fight against abortion is even more foundational, even more important, than even these crucial issues.

Without the right to your life, what’s the point of your right to practice religion? Without the right to life, what’s the point of safeguarding the family?

Patrick Craine is Canadian Bureau Chief for LifeSiteNews.com and the president of Campaign Life Coalition NS.  He lives with his wife and two children on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia.