NAPA INSTITUTE: Five Victims of Cultural Bullying Due to Religious Expression Lead Off Day 2 of the Napa Institute

By Thomas M. Loarie


Special to the Catholic Business Journal—NAPA, CA – Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) Kelly Fiedorek opened the second day of the Napa Institute with a panel discussion the “Future of Religious Freedom.” Her opening remarks provided context on both where we are and how religious freedom is a benefit to all.

Four victims, constituting three cases, of cultural bullying by those trying to suppress religious liberty served as panelists—Kelvin Cochran, Norvilla Etienne, and Steve and Bridget Tennes. ADF represents all three cases in their fight against those who publicly proclaimed the beliefs of these victims reminiscent of attitudes that led to the Holocaust and therefore despicable. The Tennes were even ordered to go to counseling.

While each case is notable, Cochran’s was exceptional as he was a top government official in Atlanta. He was named Atlanta’s Fire Chief in 2008 – a position he served until 2009 when was called to serve in the Obama Administration as a fire administrator. In 2010 Cochran returned to Atlanta where he was unanimously confirmed to once again serve as Atlanta’s Fire Chief. In his capacity, Fire Chief Cochran played a critical role in eliminating “-isms”—sexism, favoritism, racism, nepotism, etc.—in public service. Then, suddenly, Chief Cochran’s storied career went up in smoke, all because of a book he wrote for a men’s Bible study group at his Baptist church.

“We are seeing an erosion of freedoms,” Fiedorek noted. “A polite persecution led by efforts to suppress conscience.”

The loss of religious freedoms has costs for everyone, including:

  • Religious freedom benefits everyone. It is pre–political. This right does not come from the government as some want us to believe. The government’s role is to protect this right. We all have an fundamental right to our religious destiny.
  • Religious freedom provides an environment where we can explore and understand our life’s purpose. What is life all about?
  • Religious freedom inspires and promotes human flourishing. Religious freedom has led to the building of schools, support for those most in need, community in a fragmented world. It also adds $1.2 trillion in the U.S. economy.
  • Civil liberties travel together with religious freedom. Just look at countries where religious freedom has eroded. The suppression of other rights across a range of liberties—freedom to assemble, freedom of the press, etc.—follows once religion has been successfully repressed.

Cochran closed the session by delineating five things he has learned through his ordeal:

  1. God has prepared us for our days of testing.
  2. There are worldly consequences for being openly Christian.
  3. There are Kingdom consequences for living our faith and these are greater than the worldly consequences.
  4. Facing and bearing persecution gives glory to God. You will see a beautiful and powerful side of God you would’ve never seen.
  5. Those who have courage will be rewarded beyond their wildest expectations…after they have passed the test.

The Napa Institute was inspired by a 2010 essay, “The Next America,” (First Things) written by Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap., and resembles the Aspen Institute with provocative talks given by leading Catholic clergy, authors, and laypeople. The Institute, which is in its seventh year, was co-founded by the Rev. Robert Spitzer, S.J., former president of Gonzaga University, and Tim Busch, a successful lawyer and entrepreneur in the hospitality business. The aim of the Institute is to better equip Catholic leaders to face the challenges of the “next America.” More than 550 people from all over the world are attending this year’s four-day conference.

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Thomas A. Loarie reports live from the Napa Institute and is a columnist and senior editorial advisor for Catholic Business Journal, one of three rotating hosts on the popular “The Mentors” radio show, and the of Bryologyx. He may be reached at [email protected]