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Acton Commentary: Religious Freedom Doesn’t Mean Religious Silence

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The First Amendment rights of religious groups are under assault in the public square. As Kevin Schmiesing reminds us in today’s Acton Commentary, “History’s tyrants recognized the progression that some of us have forgotten: Where people are free to act according their conscience, they will demand the right to determine their political destiny.”

Read the commentary at the Acton Website and comment on it here.

Brittany Hunter


  • Hiram

    Just because an argument might be politically brutish doesn’t make it incorrect.

    I understand that the invitation by Notre Dame to President Obama raises issues, but those issues are between the Notre Dame administration and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, not between the Catholic Church and the president. As between the president and the church Notre Dame, the invitation was graciously extended by Father Jenkins, and graciously accepted by President Obama. It would be impolite, if not downright rude, for that invitation to be withdrawn now.

  • Hiram

    “if a moral argument finds support in any religious commitment, then the promulgation of that argument in law is a violation of the principle of religious disestablishment.”

    I think that’s considerably further down the slippery slope than the Iowa Supreme Court intended or would allow itself to go. The notion that moral arguments that are supported by church authority is indeed as absurd as the writer suggests. But the courts shouldn’t go that far. What they should and do say is that the government should not impose religious principles, as such, on the people.

  • Gene Pierce

    I notice that Ken does not make a judgement of the correctness of Notre Dame in granting an honorary degree to President Obama. To have someone speak at Notre
    Dame who is at odds with Catolic dogma is not wrong, but when the issue is human dignity and life and the relationship between God and man, I find the honoring of such a man to be an act of disrespect to both the Catholic hierarchy and the laity who adopt the church’s teaching. Is Notre Dame now a radical institution on par with Harvard and the other Ivies?

  • Horacio

    Does the Catholic Church ignores the millions of people that have gone humanistic? or Atheistic.? How much longer can this deception continue? Anywhere where catholicism has its hand people turn conformist, just look at Mexico. USA still has creative minds and will continue disliking the opinions of those who want to reinterpret, or redifine the concept of freedom, and because of freedom you can not do it.

  • The Iowa Supreme Court has shown itself to be historically illiterate and incapable of clear, logical thought.

    The purpose of the First Amendment was to separate church and state, not religion and state. The difference is this: the First Amendment prohibits the government from respecting an establishment of religion, i.e. an ecclesiastical body or sectarian denomination. In other words, a church.

    But it does not prohibit the government from passing civil laws that have a religious, moral motivation behind them, as long as this religious, moral motivation is to protect civil freedom and security. For example, to prohibit murder and theft is a very religious thing (it’s in the Bible, after all!!), but it is civil, not ecclesiastical in nature. The distinction is that which Martin Luther drew between the two kingdoms, the civil and the religious, each governing one half the Ten Commandments. James Madison credited Luther as the source of religious liberty in America: here.

    So, regarding the prohibition of homosexual marriage, we have two possibilities:

    (a) We hold like the Congregationalists of Massachusetts, and say that while marriage is a religious institution between a couple and God, nevertheless, it also influences the civil polity, the same way that murder and theft do. Therefore, it can be interpreted as relevant to the civil sphere, not the ecclesiastical one. Therefore, prohibiting homosexual marriage is alright if done for the sake of protecting morality and civility in the public sphere.

    (b) We hold like the Baptists, and draw the line between the two spheres much more starkly. We would have a very strict definition of the public sphere, limiting it to life, liberty, and property alone, and absolutely banish from it anything even remotely “religious.” But according to this, the entire institution of marriage is religious, not civil, and so the civil government has no right involving itself in marriage, at all, in the first place. Not only would a law about homosexual marriage be prohibited, but all laws about marriage would be prohibited, and marriage would have to be entirely privatized!

    As a libertarian, I would prefer the Baptist route, but my point is that either way you cut it, the First Amendment is no obstacle.

  • Let me clarify:

    The terms “church” and “state” – as used by Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists – were technical terms. According to Martin Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms – appealed to by James Madison – religion (meaning God and the Bible, etc., in all their totality) is the ruler of both church and state, with church and state being two different hierarchical institutions, two different spheres of jurisdiction. “Church” and “state” are technical terms for two different institutions, two different “establishments.” In other words, “church” is only one half of “religion”, and “state” is the other half of religion.

    So the First Amendment prohibited the government from dealing with the church side of religion, but not the state side of religion. The prohibitions of murder and theft, for example, fall under the state side of religion.