Speaker Ryan Firing Chaplain Conroy Is True Attack on Religious Liberty

Fr. Patrick Conroy, former Chaplain of the House of Representatives

Fr. Patrick J. Conroy, a Jesuit priest who served as Chaplain to the US House of Representatives, has been fired by Speaker Paul Ryan. Though the Speaker declined to justify his action, Fr. Conroy told the New York Times that Ryan had admonished him after a public prayer for the poor, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”

As clergy who, like Fr. Conroy, have taken vows to preach the Word of God, we do not see how you can read the Bible and stay out of politics. Isaiah 10 speaks directly to lawmakers: “Woe unto you who legislate evil and rob the poor, making widows and orphans your prey.” Jeremiah received a Word from the Lord in chapter 22, saying, “God down to the palace of the king and declare, ‘Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”

These are not only the public priorities of the Hebrew prophets. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says he will judge nations — not individuals — by asking, “When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was thirsty, did you give me something to drink?” The epistle of James makes clear that God opposes anyone who prevents workers from receiving a living wage:

“The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.”

Preachers must endorse God’s politics. Over 2,000 verses in the Bible insist on justice for the poor. If the Bible is our guide, God’s main political priority is good news for the poor.

We are called to be prophets to the nation, not endorsers of the nation’s politicians and injustices. If preachers had stayed out of politics, we wouldn’t have had the abolition movement to end slavery and win the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. We wouldn’t have women’s suffrage, civil rights protections, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Speaker Ryan, who claims to champion religious liberty, has acted to silence the moral truth of Scripture. Most Republicans in the House today voted against an investigation into his reason for firing Fr. Conroy, thus backing the Speaker’s action.

If they fired Fr. Conroy for praying for God’s politics in the House, they will also have to get rid of Moses and Isaiah, Deborah and Jesus, Frederick Douglass and Francis Perkins, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King. As preachers we cannot remain silent while those with political power try to silence the Word of God.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, Repairers of the Breach

Minister Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, School for Conversion