“God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness.” (DH, 1) It is the Catholic Church that He established in order to share the Gospel with the world. Disciples of Christ are obligated to share this message with all the world and, for their part, all men are obligated to seek truth. The Council states that religious freedom “has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society”(DH, 1) and therefore “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” (DH, 1)
The foundation of religious freedom comes from the dignity of the human person as known by both reason and the revelation of God. (DH, 2) This is found in the very nature of man and therefore the right to religious freedom “continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it.” (DH, 2) It is acknowledged, however, that the protection of a just and ordered society can justly limit the exercise of this right in particular cases.
That being said, man should not be forced to act contrary to his conscience since it is from his conscience that he “perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of divine law.” (DH, 3) He shall be permitted to share his religious convictions with others in society as well so as to fully live his internal religious beliefs in their external expressions. (DH, 3). Further, religious communities should not be hindered in their “public teaching and witness to their faith.” (DH, 4) The family too has the right to religious freedom under the guidance and authority of the parents. The parents “have the right to determine in accordance with their own religious beliefs, the kind of religious education that their children are to receive.” (DH, 5)
Since religious freedom is exercised in society, it is “subject to certain regulatory norms” (DH, 7) so as to protect the common good and society itself. As a rule, “the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary.” (DH, 7) But many do use the claim to religious freedom as an excuse to disobey and refuse to follow rightful authority.
“It is one of the major tenets of Catholic doctrine that man’s response to God in faith must be free: no one therefore is to be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his own will.” (DH, 10) Knowing that not all men will choose the truth and live according to God’s law, the weeds are to be left to grow among the good until God’s judgement comes. But, even so, the faithful must never be lax in their divine mandate to go “out into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” (DH, 13)
Like Unitatis Redintegratio, I am working on a more in-depth response to this document due in part to its brevity (only 9 pages), but also because many claim that the Church changed Her teachings when this document was promulgated. I’ll report back what I find.