February 09, 2024
University President Peter Kilpatrick and Catholic legal scholar Helen M. Alvaré, MA 1989, led a discussion on the state of religious freedom at a Feb. 6 event in Heritage Hall. (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

In the face of increased calls to force faith-based institutions to adopt policies at odds with their values, championing the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage, family, and sexuality is no easy task. Catholic legal scholar and pro-life advocate Helen M. Alvaré, MA 1989, has advocated for the rights and freedoms of the faithful to practice what they preach before federal lawmakers, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the media. 

University President Peter Kilpatrick hosted Alvaré for a Feb. 6 conversation with the campus community on how to speak about religious freedom without playing into secular society’s false impression that it is a license to discriminate. 

In his introduction, Kilpatrick described Alvaré as an impressive communicator who has advised the U.S. bishops and the Vatican on pro-life and religious freedom issues. She is currently the Robert A. Levy Endowed Chair in Law and Liberty at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School and earned her law degree from Cornell University School of Law. 

After sharing her many accomplishments including being honored by the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast with the 2024 Christifideles Laici Award, Kilpatrick said “there are many other things I can say about Helen. … She has such a great heart for people.” 

The evening’s conversation was inspired by her book Religious Freedom after the Sexual Revolution: A Catholic Guide (published by Catholic University Press). She explained Catholics are getting wrongly “boxed in as anti-freedom” due to a new definition of freedom that emerged in our legal system during the sexual revolution. 

“When freedom was defined as relational, as in doing your duty to God and neighbor, religious freedom was freedom,” said Alvaré. She explained what happened was that the U.S. Supreme Court began to draw away from this traditional understanding and reconceptualized freedom within the context of individual sexual liberation, resulting in a series of decisions that redefined “liberty as freedom from care.” The result is the creation of rights for adults to do as they wish that take priority over considerations of children, families, and the common good. 

Alvaré said her goal is to help faith-informed organizations demonstrate to others that their commitment to the Church’s teachings on social justice and sexuality go hand in hand with building caring communities. 

“Religious freedom is freedom,” said Alvaré. "What we are asking for is the freedom to be a witness for human flourishing … a place of inspiration, strength, and solace.” 

When students in the audience asked what they could do to be better advocates for the faith, she said they can start by pointing out “the good things religion is doing” and through the “personal witness in our family lives and professional choices.” 

She advised that in the face of intensifying pressure to adopt policies on transgender issues, abortion, and same-sex unions that go against Church teaching, Catholics have to outshine the opposition. 

“You have to be the smartest person in the room on the topic,” said Alvaré, drawing from her experience debating the other side and now working at a secular institution where many do not share her views.

“I definitely try to manifest my faith in connection to things that are good for work, colleagues, and community,” said Alvaré. 

During the conversation, President Kilpatrick shared with the audience her close connections to the University community. Alvaré previously taught at the Columbus School of Law and earned a master’s degree in systematic theology from the University. She and her husband Brian Duggan, who has a scholarship named in his memory at the University, raised three children together. 

Helen Alvaré speaks to a student at the event (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

As the discussion ended, President Kilpatrick offered audience members free copies of her book. After the event, Alvaré shared words of advice and encouragement to a long line of undergraduate women who gathered to speak to her.