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Faith in the center of the storm

| Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, 8:55 p.m.

“We usually assist in Africa and other impoverished areas around the world, just like the Red Cross does,” said Sgt. Angelo A. Sedacca of the NYPD, talking about his work with the Knights of Malta, a Catholic charitable organization in more 120 countries throughout the world.

“Now we're needed here in New York City in the aftermath of Sandy.”

Essential to the story of preparation, rescue and recovery were men and women who work for the government — elected officials and bureaucrats as well as first responders on the ground. But they couldn't do their job without the existence of a support system of people who live to serve their fellows.

As happened in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York, the mayor's office immediately pointed to the leading role of the faith-based Salvation Army in providing relief. And there was the member of St. Augustine's Catholic Church in Westchester County, “organizing other parishioners in going door-to-door to check up on their neighbors and the elderly in the town, making sure they have everything they need,” as the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York told the story.

“Our hearts are broken when you see the loss of life, the grieving families, the devastation, the ruination, people without their cherished possessions and their homes,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, observed in a television interview. “But throughout all of it, too, you begin to see a glimmer of light and hope. ... Once again, the best, the most noble sentiments of people are coming out as people are heroic and generous in serving those in need.”

This notion of solidarity is one that has been dancing on the margins of presidential politics and public policy all year.

Faith is indispensable. It's why the increasingly narrow view of religious freedom that the Obama administration harbors is an issue of historic import.

Even some of the president's own appointees on the Supreme Court have indicated that it's a step too far, slapping down an administration rule regarding hiring practices at an Evangelical Lutheran school.

This rebuke, however, did not make the impression it should have on the White House. To this day, faith-based social-service entities — including schools, hospitals and some of the very charities providing essential services in Sandy's wake — face an unprovoked attack on their liberty, no matter what the White House spinmeisters say.

In the wake of disaster, though, we are reminded why it's in the best interest of everyone that we allow these faith-based entities to operate as their conscience guides them — of why protecting religious freedom in America is the right thing to do not only because it is just, but also because it provides a practical benefit.

Without hope, without people motivated by something greater than a presidential-election victory or financial gain, we're a sadly limited lot.

Can we translate this compassion into our civic choices, ensuring that we remain a people protecting what is most precious to us — our first freedom, religious freedom?

Kathryn Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review Online (nationalreview.com).

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